The Penrith Panthers have secured the 2018 Under-18s National Final, defeating Mal Meninga Cup winners the Souths Logan Magpies 38-32 at Redcliffe's Dolphin Stadium.
Panthers hooker Maurice Trindall was judged best on ground in the entertaining affair, which saw the Magpies fight from 22-0 down to draw level with two minutes remaining. Captain Shawn Blore and front-rower Patrick Naicori were also strong for the visitors, who won the UNE SG Ball Cup Grand Final 25-14 last Saturday.
The Panthers had a dream start off the game's commencement; with just 24 seconds on the clock, they found themselves on the board. Hooker Maurice Trindall made the most of a Souths Logan mistake in the opening play, pouncing on the loose ball to score an easy four-pointer.
Things went from bad to worse for the Magpies when Chase Chapman crossed six minutes later, taking a ball from halfback Hayden Bonanno to extend his side's lead. When the Magpies looked to hit back shortly after, a missed pass from Tanah Boyd to winger Vahai Finau brought them unstuck.
The game was just 11 minutes old when Penrith scored the side's third, five-eighth Matt Burton slicing through under the posts for a 16-0 advantage.
The following 12 minutes was the longest scoreless period of the match, with the Magpies appearing to get back into the contest. Then came a Matt Burton kick, batted back by Bonanno for Zachary Cini to charge through a gap untouched.
With a 22-0 scoreline in their favour, the result looked beyond doubt for the UNE SG Ball Premiers, but the Magpies then began to engineer an unlikely comeback.
The final six minutes of the first half saw two Souths Logan tries; first, after utility hooker Bailey Bartley looked to go right, he turned left to Paul Karaitiana, who sent Ezra Coulston over to score. Then, on the stroke of half-time, an intercept from Boyd put the home side on the front foot, before fullback Tesi Niu split the Panthers' defence, putting out a big palm to score his side's second. It left a more respectable 22-12 scoreline at the break.
The Magpies maintained their momentum early in the second stanza, with Vinncent Takataka reducing the deficit. Halves Boys and Karaitiana combined to send the second-rower over as Souths Logan continued their fightback.
It took a fantastic individual effort from Panther Stephen Crichton to halt the Magpies' charge; the centre took an inside ball from Burton before beating four defenders to score. The Magpies, however, hit back immediately, with a freak bounce from the restart falling into the lap of Coulston, who earned his second.
Soon after, a line-break from Magpies second-rower David Fifita looked likely to bring more points – and it did, but for the opposition. A wayward offload put the Panthers back on the front foot, with a good left-side movement then resulting in a try to winger Ethan Clark-Wood.
Soon after, however, Fifita made up for his earlier mistake; the rampaging forward took an intercept from Penrith counterpart Ratu Nanovo, charging 80 metres and fending off Charlie Staines to score another.
Souths Logan then had a golden opportunity to draw level – and they did just that through a pin-point kick from Boyd. The halfback's bomb found Vahai Finau, who took a nice grab in the south-western corner. When Boyd lined up the conversion at 32-30, the pressure was on, and with the kick spectacularly bouncing off the crossbar to go over, the scores were all locked up.
With less than two minutes remaining, the Panthers had the best chance to add the field goal and secure the win, but a Jett Trembath chargedown denied them in the first instance. It did gift a line dropout to the visitors, however, and they made the most of their second chance to emerge victorious.
Shaping for the drop goal, the ball soon found Zach Cini, who broke through to score in the dying moments. The winger sealed the result for Penrith, who ran out Under-18s National Champions with a 38-32 scoreline.
Penrith Panthers 38 (Z Cini 2, M Trindall, C Chapman, M Burton, S Crichton, E Clark-Wood tries; S Crichton 4, S Blore goals) def Souths Logan Magpies 32 (E Coulston 2, F Niu, F Takataka, D Fifita, V Finau tries; T Boyd 4 goals)