The undermanned Jersey Flegg Panthers scored a late try to secure a 20-all draw against Cronulla Sharks at BlueBet Stadium on Saturday.
It was a remarkable result for a side which was forced to field 10 Panthers SG Ball players due to the impact of the upgraded NRL COVID-19 protocols, and took the field without a single training run as a team.
The brave performance was almost rewarded with what would have been a famous victory but Panthers halfback Hayden Bonanno was unable to convert the final try from near the sideline.
It took 15 minutes for the scorers to be troubled. The Sharks went to the air and forced an error, which was quickly dived on by centre James Coyne. Jordan Samrani converted from close range to give Cronulla a 6-0 lead.
Cronulla scored back-to-back tries when Samrani made a short-side bust and found hooker Isaac Longmuir in support. The conversion attempt was waved away but the Sharks held a 10-point lead after 19 minutes.
The Panthers found themselves at the right end of the field following a set restart and penalty and quickly capitalised. Bonanno combined with Sunita Lotoaniu to send the back-rower over on the left edge. The conversion was slotted home by Connor Mason.
Penrith levelled the scores in the 27th minute when hooker Ryley Smith attacked the line and found Flynn Isaacs in support. The winger still had plenty to do, beating a number of defenders and spinning his way over for a four-pointer. The conversion attempt hit the upright and bounced away.
The Sharks reclaimed the lead shortly before the break when a midfield kick was taken by Josh Finau. The centre broke free and found interchange player Blake Hosking close to the line, to give Cronulla a four-point lead at the break.
HALF-TIME: Sharks 14 – Panthers 10
Three minutes into the second half Panthers prop Mavrik Geyer used his footwork, strength and agility in the one movement as he took the line on and stretched out to score. Bonanno's conversion put the Panthers back in front by two points.
The back-and-forth contest took another turn when the Sharks made a break down the right touchline with 19 minutes to play. Jack Boyling put himself in position to receive the final pass and score. Hooker Isaac Longmuir calmly slotted the conversion to give Cronulla a 20-16 lead.
The Panthers threw caution to the wind in the final stages of the contest. Following a break through the midfield, fullback Sadee Sub Laban found centre Immanuel Tagalomatua out wide, who dived over to level the scores with just two minutes remaining.
Unfortunately Bonanno couldn't add the extras but the hard-earned draw ensures the Panthers will remain atop the Jersey Flegg ladder for now.
FULL-TIME: Panthers 20 – Sharks 20