The Canterbury Cup Panthers came from behind to defeat Wests Magpies 24-18 at Panthers Stadium on Sunday.
The Panthers trailed 12-6 in the second half, before three quickfire tries to Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, Kaide Ellis and Charlie Staines put them beyond the Magpies’ reach.
After back-to-back losses, it was a much-needed victory for the Panthers, who find themselves back in the hunt for the minor premiership.
Staines was scintillating for the Panthers, with a try, 261 running metres and two line breaks which led to tries.
Meanwhile, Matt Burton hit the ground running in his return to the Canterbury Cup side.
Burton opened the scoring for the Panthers in the 4th minute as he stepped off his left foot twice to slide over. Dean Blore added the extras to give the Panthers an early 6-0 lead.
The Magpies hit back in the 10th minute, as five-eighth Max Burey went short to second rower Jack Miller. Bilal Maarbani’s conversion levelled the scores.
The remainder of the first half was an arm wrestle through the middle of the field, devoid of many genuine try-scoring opportunities.
Billy Burns had a half chance just before the break when he sidestepped through the Magpies’ edge defence, but the play fizzled out with nothing to separate the two sides.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 6 – MAGPIES 6
Burton showed great instinct as the Panthers came close in the 43rd minute. The five-eighth threaded it through, regathered and linked up with Dean Blore, only for his halves partner to be chopped down short of the line.
The Magpies had no such problem as they hit the front moments later.
Watson Heleta pounced on a deft kick by halfback Kauri Aupouri-Puketapu, and Maarbani’s goal gave the Magpies a 12-6 lead.
The Panthers came roaring back into the contest in the 56th minute thanks to some fancy footwork by Watene-Zelezniak.
After good passes by Blore and Tyrell Fuimaono, Watene-Zelezniak stepped back inside two Magpies defenders and wrestled away from another two to trim it down to 12-10.
The missed conversion saw the Magpies maintain their lead, but not for long.
A 50-metre break by Staines left the Magpies reeling, and the Panthers capitalised. Brendan Hands jumped out of dummy half and sent Ellis over from close range, putting the Panthers ahead 16-12.
After playing a crucial role in the try that gave Penrith the lead, Staines was rewarded with one for himself in the 68th minute.
Burton sliced through on the last tackle and in support was his fullback, who streaked away for a try to give the Panthers some breathing room. Hands added the conversion for 22-12 with 10 minutes remaining.
The Panthers looked to be cruising to victory, before the Magpies got the ball back from the short kick-off and set up a grandstand finish.
Soni Luke poked it to the in-goal for Robbie Rochow to pounce, and the conversion made it a four-point game with eight minutes remaining.
It proved to be nothing but a bump in the road however, as a late penalty goal to Hands secured the win for the Panthers.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 24 – MAGPIES 18