The Panthers overcame a half-time deficit to defeat Central Coast Roosters 18-16 in the opening round of the Harold Matthews Cup at BlueBet Stadium on Saturday.
Panthers winger John-Paul Donevski had an eventful afternoon, bouncing back from a first half sin-binning to finish the game with two tries and a decisive intercept.
Kicking off towards the southern end, the junior Panthers seemed up for the challenge early with forward Tana Papu making a tough tackle to halt the Roosters momentum.
Receiving back-to-back penalties, Central Coast capitalised in the fifth minute, with Brodie Moore crossing the line.
Panthers fullback Wilson De Courcey made a break down the line in the eighth minute to bring his team back into their attacking half, but his efforts were cut short when teammate Jenson Tuaoi left the field following a head knock.
It seemed as though the Panthers had finally found their rhythm after forward Judah Galuvao found a try scoring opportunity, but lost possession due to an obstruction call.
A knock on by De Courcey in the 14th minute saw an already exhausted Penrith defend back-to-back sets and concede another penalty. The Roosters added to the scoreboard as Tyreece Arama crossed in the corner to put his team ahead 8-0.
Penrith winger Donevski was sent to the sin bin with 13 minutes left of the first half as the Panthers battled for possession and field position.
But his absence appeared to inspire his team, who worked harder to make up for their missing man, and forced errors from the Roosters.
A forced line-dropout by Billy Thompson, coming off the bench to play hooker, gave the Panthers a golden opportunity in attack just before the break.
Thompson grabbed the reward, darting out of dummy half to score in the 26th minute, with halfback Jett Cleary knocking the conversion over.
HALF-TIME: Panthers 6 - CC Roosters 8
It was evident that the Panthers were hungry to climb their way back into the way the game, with tight defence halting Roosters scoring opportunities.
Roosters five-eighth Matthew Humphries found himself in the sin bin after failing to get back the ten metres following a Panthers penalty.
Cleary eventually made the most of the missing man, finding space for Donevski in the corner to put the Panthers ahead 10-8 in the 44th minute.
But the Roosters weren’t done yet, as fullback Riley Burke dodged through Panthers defence to add an extra four points and put the visitors ahead by two with 15 minutes to go.
The Panthers re-took the lead as Donevski raced up out of the line to grab an intercept, then score a try from the ensuing play. Another conversion attempt was waved away but the Panthers were ahead 14-12 with ten minutes to go.
When Panthers centre David Afu dived over to score with five minutes left on the clock, the result seemed confirmed.
However the Roosters ensured the contest would continue until the final play when Fotofili found space in the line to flick a pass and put winger Amyn Hamilton over in the corner.
Yet on a tough afternoon for the goal-kickers, another missed conversion from Humphries meant that the Panthers had done just enough to come away with the victory
FULL-TIME: Panthers 18 – CC Roosters 16