The Panthers took top spot on the NRL ladder with a 22-10 comeback win over the Cowboys in their long-awaited return to Panthers Stadium.
The Panthers overcame the loss of both Dylan Edwards and Dean Whare to injuries, as they came from behind in the second half to secure a fifth-consecutive victory, which propels them into first place at the halfway point of the 2020 NRL season.
Jarome Luai scored the Panthers’ first, but the Cowboys hit the lead early in the second half. Brent Naden and Stephen Crichton scored back-to-back tries to put the Panthers back ahead, before Nathan Cleary scored late on to put the icing on Penrith’s triumphant return to Panthers Stadium.
Crichton bats it back to Luai
There was plenty of energy in the Panthers Stadium stands, and the Panthers channelled it to take a 4-0 lead within five minutes.
Shortly after forcing a repeat set, Jarome Luai reaped the benefits with the first try. Nathan Cleary’s cross-field chip was batted down by Stephen Crichton and landed for Luai to dive through two defenders in the corner.
Dean Whare’s return from a toe injury was cut short as he left the field in the 6th minute, replaced at right centre by Billy Burns.
Liam Martin found himself locked in a personal battle with Coen Hess, as the pair exchanged heavy contact throughout the match.
The Panthers had plenty of chances to extend their lead but could not find an avenue through the Cowboys’ impressive goal-line defence. The visitors had some help from the goal post when James Fisher-Harris came up short of a barnstorming try midway through the first half.
The Cowboys capitalised on their defensive efforts, as they drew level in the 36th minute with a stunning solo try by Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.
Tabuai-Fidow received the ball on the halfway line before he blitzed through a broken defensive line. He then slipped away from six would-be tackles to dot down in the corner.
Nathan Cleary looked to restore Penrith’s lead at the end of the first half as he struck a field goal attempt, but he narrowly missed, and the scores remained locked.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 4 – COWBOYS 4
The Panthers were slow out of the gates in the second half and went behind in the 42nd minute shortly after conceding a penalty.
After a nice string of passes, Cowboys debutant Daejarn Asi sliced through next to the posts, and Kyle Feldt’s conversion pushed the visitors out to a 10-4 lead after 42 minutes.
Nathan Cleary came agonisingly close to scoring from a chip-and-chase, as a bad bounce denied him. But he managed to force a drop out, setting up the Panthers’ equalising try.
A well-weighted pass by Dylan Edwards created space for Billy Burns, and he handed it off for Brent Naden to go over in the corner.
Cleary nailed the sideline conversion to make it 10-10 after 50 minutes.
Naden finishes slick backline movement
The Panthers were beginning to find their groove as they applied more pressure to the Cowboys’ goal-line defence, and eventually restored their lead in the 59th minute.
The Panthers opted to run it on the last tackle, with Jarome Luai going left to Tyrone May. May took it to the line and got an arm free for Stephen Crichton to push up and touch down.
Cleary knocked over the conversion to stretch the Panthers’ lead to 16-10.
Late offload puts Crichton over the line
Dylan Edwards’ withdrawal due to injury forced a backline reshuffle for the final twenty minutes, with Stephen Crichton at fullback, and Tyrone May and Billy Burns in the centres.
The Cowboys threatened to hit back when they attacked the Panthers’ line in the 65th minute. But the Panthers defended well, and Nathan Cleary terrifically escaped the in-goal to end the attack.
Cleary then secured victory for the Panthers with a match-sealing try in the final seconds of play. He drifted cross-field, before putting the foot down and sliding over to send Panthers Stadium into raptures as the Panthers took top spot on the premiership table.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 22 – COWBOYS 10