Panthers withstand late Rabbitohs charge

A Billy Burns hat-trick was the difference as the Canterbury Cup Panthers defeated South Sydney Rabbitohs 20-18 at Panthers Stadium on Friday.

The Rabbitohs rallied late to set up a tense finish, but Burns’ three tries, all assisted by Jarome Luai, ultimately got the Panthers over the line for their second-consecutive victory.

The Panthers led 12-0 at halftime, a margin which would have been greater had they taken advantage of their numerous opportunities in the first 20 minutes.

Jarome Luai showed his class in the 8th minute, posing for a kick before busting the line. He linked up with Shawn Blore, whose return pass cruelly travelled forwards.

After forcing a repeat set in the 11th minute, Dylan Edwards almost scored the opener as he sliced through out wide, but the Rabbitohs’ last-ditch defence was superb.

Edwards came close again in the 18th minute when Brent Naden put a grubber inside for him, but the ball was too low for the fullback to gather.

Yet another chance went begging in the 22nd minute as Daine Laurie slipped through and got an arm free for Billy Burns. The offload travelled forward, and the Panthers were denied again.

The Panthers were clinical thereafter, capitalising their next three chances on either side of the break, with Luai and Burns involved in them all.

The elusive first try came in the 26th minute when Brian Too cut inside and barged over after some good lead-up work by Luai and Burns. Edwards added the goal to make it 6-0.

That margin was doubled shortly before halftime when Burns pounced on Luai’s deft grubber in behind the defence, with Edwards’ conversion making it 12-0.

HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 12 – RABBITOHS 0

Four minutes into the second half, Luai and Burns linked up again for a carbon copy of the previous try, taking the Panthers out to a 16-0 lead.

Luai set his sights on the Rabbitohs’ right edge on the Panthers’ next two attacks, but an obstruction and a knock on undid his work on either occasion.

The Rabbitohs first genuine chance came in the 56th minute when Jacob Gagan dived for the line, but Burns was the hero again as he slid across to get underneath the ball.

The Panthers defence was finally pierced in the 63rd minute when Billy Brittain darted from dummy half, and the goal from Mawene Hiroti closed the gap to 10 points.

Burns latched onto a short ball from Luai to run in for his hat-trick, seemingly putting the game to bed at 20-6 with 13 minutes remaining.

However, the Rabbitohs rallied late to set up a grandstand finish as Dean Britt and Mawene Hiroti scored two tries in the final five minutes.

The Panthers survived the scare however, hanging on for their second-consecutive victory.

FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 20 – RABBITOHS 18