James Maloney has celebrated his birthday in style with the match-winning field goal as the Panthers beat the Rabbitohs 19-18 in a thriller at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
It was the Panthers’ fourth-straight victory and sees them draw level with the eighth-placed Tigers on six competition wins.
Maloney and halves partner Nathan Cleary combined well, forcing three drop outs and setting up two tries between them.
Up front it was James Tamou who led the charge, running for 176 metres and making 27 tackles.
The Panthers were first to draw blood through a penalty goal.
A deft grubber from Maloney then forced a mistake from Gagai, handing the Panthers a full set on South Sydney’s line.
And a surging run from Brian To’o later drew a penalty, with Cleary slotting the two points to hand Penrith the early lead.
They were unable to complete the set after points though and were made to pay.
Cleary cleverly read a Damien Cook kick to field it in-goal but the ball spilled out in the tackle of Cameron Murray.
Murray then grounded the ball to score the first try of the night.
Adam Doueihi stepped up to pilot through the conversion.
The Rabbitohs almost went back-to-back when Campbell Graham kicked back inside for Alex Johnston but a crucial tackle from Cleary shut down the play.
A rock in defence, the 21-year old was just as composed with the ball in hand as he quickly forced two dropouts.
And eventually the pressure told as Maloney took the ball up to the line and played it short to a rampaging Viliame Kikau who strolled over for Penrith’s first of the game.
Cleary sent the conversion through as the Panthers regained their two-point lead.
Penrith had other opportunities to extend their lead in the late stages of the first half but lacked execution at times.
HALF-TIME: Panthers 8 - Rabbitohs 6
Execution was perfect early in the second half though as a pinpoint kick from Cleary was snatched by Brent Naden who scored his second career try.
Cleary guided the ball through the posts to extend the lead to eight.
Another error off the set after points gifted South Sydney prime attacking field position and they looked to have capitalised through Campbell Graham only for the Bunker to rule an obstruction in the lead-up.
After an ideal start to the second forty, mistakes began to creep in as the Panthers struggled to build pressure.
And it eventually told as Liam Knight powered over under the posts to reduce the deficit to two once more.
Souths quickly went back-to-back when a long ball gave James Roberts space.
The Rabbitohs centre sprinted down the sideline and then linked back inside with Gagai who ran way to score.
Both conversions were successful, seeing the Rabbitohs take a four-point lead into the final 20 minutes.
But Penrith defended their line bravely to stop the home side’s run there and soon after hit back.
A sweeping play to the right ended with Brian To’o diving over in the corner for his first NRL try.
Cleary hooked the conversion from the sideline, leaving the scores locked at 18-all with eight minutes remaining.
Maloney then iced the field goal to hand Penrith the lead with just under five minutes remaining.
FULL-TIME: Panthers 19 - Rabbitohs 18