The Panthers’ hot run of form continued with a hard-fought 19-12 win over Wests Tigers at Bankwest Stadium on Saturday.
It was a tense battle, as the scores were locked at 12-all with ten minutes remaining, before Nathan Cleary kicked a late field goal and Dylan Edwards scored a match-sealing try after some great lead-up work by Api Koroisau.
Stephen Crichton also scored his first career double as the Panthers clawed their way back from a halftime deficit to make it three-consecutive wins and return to second spot on the premiership table.
The Panthers got off to the perfect start, scoring inside two minutes after Viliame Kikau’s crunching tackle forced a Tigers knock on in the first set.
The Panthers shifted it to their lethal left edge, and Stephen Crichton strolled over for the opening try after a well-weighted pass by Jarome Luai.
Nathan Cleary landed the conversion from out wide, putting the Panthers ahead 6-0 after two minutes.
Crichton opens the scoring against Wests Tigers
The Tigers threatened to hit straight back, but the Panthers held on with some scrambling goal-line defence.
Wests again came close when Luke Brooks slipped away, before Brian To’o made a try-saving intercept.
After a Nathan Cleary 40/20, the Panthers spent an extended period attacking the Tigers’ line but could not find a breakthrough.
The Tigers punished the Panthers for their poor execution, scoring two quick tries to snatch the lead.
Matt Eisenhuth got the Tigers’ first, barging through under the posts. Adam Doueihi converted to make it 6-6 after 28 minutes.
Then, after the Panthers made an error deep in their own half, the Tigers spread it wide for Tommy Talau to put the Tigers ahead.
Doueihi missed the conversion attempt, and the Tigers went into halftime with a four-point lead.
HALF-TIME: WESTS TIGERS 10 – PANTHERS 6
The Panthers found themselves backpedalling early in the second half, before Stephen Crichton made a crucial intercept to turn defence into attack.
A few plays later, Jarome Luai rolled it to the in-goal for Crichton to produce another big play. The young centre tracked the kick down and had it knocked out of his hands, before regathering and planting it down for a try.
Nathan Cleary curled in the conversion from out wide, nudging the Panthers ahead 12-10 after 46 minutes.
Crichton bags a double
Adam Doueihi looked set to streak away when he broke into the backfield, before Dylan Edwards reeled him in with a terrific chase.
The Tigers then marched upfield and had Penrith on the ropes, but the Panthers bravely defended their line.
But an unfortunate high tackle by Api Koroisau allowed Doueihi to kick a penalty goal and make it 12-12 with 20 minutes remaining.
The Panthers then suffered a major setback as Brian To’o left the field with an ankle injury.
Stephen Crichton appeared to have restored Penrith’s lead and completed his hat-trick when he sliced through in the 67th minute, but the try was disallowed for an obstruction.
The game was hanging in the balance, but within a matter of moments, the Panthers had snatched the win with two late scores.
Nathan Cleary pushed the Panthers ahead in the 71st minute, as he coolly slotted a field goal to make it 13-12.
Cleary calmly slots field goal
The Panthers then put the Tigers to bed when Apisai Koroisau ducked under the defence and broke into the backfield, before finding Dylan Edwards pushing up in support.
The fullback slid over for a try, and Cleary kicked the conversion to give the Panthers a seven-point buffer with five minutes remaining.
The Tigers got reckless as they searched desperately for late points, as Joseph Leilua was sent to the sin bin for a piece of foul play.
But Edwards had the last laugh, as he defused a last-ditch bomb to close out the Panthers’ third-straight win.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 19 – WESTS TIGERS 12
Koroisau sets up Edwards' four-pointer