A penalty try to Luciano Leilua capped off a hostile night at Leichhardt Oval as the Wests Tigers overcame the Origin-depleted Panthers 26-6 on Friday night.
The home side came into the clash as outsiders despite the unbeaten Panthers missing seven topliners including star halves Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary and forward leader Isaah Yeo.
However, there was no love lost between the two clubs in front of a fired-up crowd of 9,127, who saved a special 'welcome' for former coach Ivan Cleary.
With the match in the balance at 12-6 to the Tigers after 65 minutes, Leilua gathered a tap back from Adam Doueihi and lunged for the line but spilled the ball on the way down.
Replays showed Panthers winger Robert Jennings had collected Leilua high and the Bunker ruled it was that contact which forced the Tiger to drop the ball.
Match: Wests Tigers v Panthers
Round 13 -
Venue: Leichhardt Oval, Sydney
At 18-6 the Tigers were able to close out the game as the absence of Luai and Cleary hit home for the Panthers.
Makeshift halves Tyrone May and Matt Burton tried hard all night but couldn't find the killer blow inside the Tigers' 20-metre zone.
"We didn't match their intensity at the start of the game and it just got away from us," Burton said.
"We didn't complete and I put my hand up for that, I wasn't good enough to put enough pressure on.
"It was good to get the opportunity but we've got to keep working on our combination and get better next week."
Bunker awards penalty try to Luciano Leilua
The joint venture struck the first blow in the 14th minute with in-form fullback Daine Laurie finishing off a set play against his former side.
Some ill-discipline from both sides spoiled the first half with several clumsy high shots penalised and neither team earning any repeat sets to build pressure.
With the Panthers on the attack five minutes before half-time, Tigers hooker Jacob Liddle produced a huge play when he blocked a Dylan Edwards grubber, picked up the loose ball and raced 90 metres to score.
Fresh from inking a two-year contract extension at the club this week, Liddle out-sprinted several Panthers on his way to the line including flyer Charlie Staines.
"I realised [after 30 metres] I could make it so thought I'd better have a crack and went for it," Liddle said.
"I was just really happy with our defence, especially in the first half.
"I think we're really coming together there and our combinations in attack have been really good in the last couple of weeks."
After being booed from the field by their own fans at half-time the last time they played at Leichhardt in round five, the Tigers were given a standing ovation after the opening 40 minutes.
Laurie lifts the Leichhardt crowd early
"It was nice to see the crowd," Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire said.
"We had a bit of a tough time the last time we were here and it was nice to see the crowd really come into the game.
"That's off the back of the boys and the way they defended for each other, and the crowd rides the wave with us."
The recent history between the two sides began to spill over with a mid-air tackle from Viliame Kikau on Laurie bringing the two sides together for an all-in melee that ended with stern warnings but no sin bins.
Moses Mbye hobbled from the field as the Panthers eventually got on the board through some individual brilliance from opposite number Burton in the 52nd minute and the margin was four.
A penalty goal to Doueihi enabled the Tigers to take a six-point lead into the final 20 minutes of the game but the Panthers were gifted territory with Burton's kick-restarts causing havoc.
Fiery start to the second half as Wests Tigers take exception to Kikau challenge
Leilua's penalty try, however, took the wind out of the sails for the visitors with another Tigers penalty goal and converted try to Stefano Utoikamanu icing their fifth win of the season.
Among many stars for the Tigers it was Alex Twal (17 runs for 166 metres) leading the way in an epic engine room battle with James Fisher-Harris (17 runs for 153 metres), who did his utmost to keep the Panthers’ winning streak alive.