Tyrone May celebrated his comeback game with two tries as the ISP Panthers defeated North Sydney Bears 38 - 14 at North Sydney Oval on Sunday.
The Panthers playmaker delivered a solid overall performance in his first game since tearing his ACL in the NRL finals series last year, while winger Ratu Tuisese scored a hat-trick.
The victory puts the Panthers level on points with Mounties at the top of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW competition table.
North Sydney five-eighth Connor Tracey looked destined to score in the 18th minute but a last-ditch tackle from ISP debutant Billy Burns saved the day for the Panthers.
In the 20th minute Panthers centre Adam Keighran broke a tackle and streaked clear before finding Tyrone May in support to score. Keighran knocked the simple conversion over to give the Panthers a 6-0 lead.
Five minutes later the visitors extended their lead as quick hands to the left edge found Tuisese in space. Despite some questions about his grounding of the ball, the try was awarded. Keighran's attempted conversion was waved away but Panthers led 10-0.
After receiving back-to-back penalties the Bears hit back on the scoreboard in the 30th minute. The Panthers right edge defence was caught short and North Sydney winger Mawene Hiroti dived over untouched. The conversion was unsuccessful so the score remained 10-4.
A minute before half-time, the Panthers went back on the attack. A long cut-out ball from Liam Coleman found centre Sam Smith, who beat the defence with a simple step and crashed over. Keighran nailed the conversion from out wide to give the Panthers a 12-point lead at the break.
HALF-TIME – Panthers 16 – 4 Bears
The Panthers opened their account in the second half courtesy of an incredible flying finish from Tuisese. With little room to work with, the winger planted the ball in spectacular fashion while airborne over the sideline. The attempted conversion just missed but the Panthers led 20-4 in the 50th minute.
Five minutes later a shortside move on the fifth tackle put Caleb Aekins in acres of space before the fullback found May on the inside to stroll over. The simple conversion from Keighran gave the Panthers a 26-4 lead.
The Bears finally responded in the 63rd minute as centre Braidon Burns got on the outside of his defender and touched down. Halfback Dean Hawkins couldn't convert and the score remained 26-8.
Sustained pressure from the Panthers paid dividends with seven minutes left to play as a Wayde Egan cut-out pass put backrower Reed Izzard over to score. Another successful Keighran conversion put the Panthers ahead 32-8.
The Panthers defence was caught napping as Tarquinn Butler scored a consolation try for the home side in the 77th minute, which was duly converted by Hawkins.
An intercept try to Tuisese in the final minute of play wrapped up his hat-trick and iced the dominant win for the Panthers.
FULL-TIME - Panthers 38 - 14 Bears