The NSW Cup Panthers suffered defeat for a second week in a row, going down to the St George Illawarra Dragons 26-22 at BlueBet Stadium on Friday.
The flow-on effect of Origin selections saw head coach Peter Wallace call upon players of the Jersey Flegg team to fill-in this round, with Isaiah Iongi and Jack Cole stepping up to the challenge and scoring two of the Panthers four tries.
But the effort wasn’t enough to outlast a strong Dragons side, whose bench was full of dominant reinforcements due to the NRL bye.
A line-break from J’maine Hopgood helped the Panthers 20-metres downfield, allowing Soni Luke to scoop up the ball from dummy-half later in the set and dive over through a gap to score the first points of the game. Niwhai Puru slotted the medium-range conversion to extend the home side’s lead to six.
The Dragons responded four minutes later off some crisp right edge passing that saw second-rower Jack Gosiewski plough through the Panthers line to score. Jayden Sullivan missed the conversion though, keeping St George Illawarra at a two-point deficit.
Luke provided the spark in the 14th minute, kicking off dummy-half on the fifth tackle to send four Panthers scrambling to ground the ball in goal, but it was five-eighth Jack Cole who was awarded the four-pointer. Puru struggled to add the extras from touch.
St George Illawarra looked to level the scores after Billy Burns split the Panthers line and raced 30 metres before offloading to winger Treigh Stewart who did the rest of the work. Sullivan’s kick waved away once more, as the Dragons continued to trail by two.
A show-and-go from Sullivan opened up a hole in Penrith’s defensive line, granting fullback Tyrell Sloan the opportunity to claim the lead in the 29th minute. This time Sullivan’s conversion was on target, putting the visitor’s four points in front.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 10 - DRAGONS 14
Hooker Connor Muhleisen extended the Dragons’ lead to eight points three minutes after the break, diving over the line from dummy-half. Sullivan made no mistake with the conversion attempt, putting St George Illawarra 10-points clear of the home team.
Jersey Flegg fullback Isaiah Iongi crossed for his first try of the game in the 51st minute, with Puru adding the extra two-points from close range.
Another piece of brilliance from Luke gave Preston Riki the chance to level the scores, with the hooker drawing in the defenders before sending the second-rower over the line. Puru’s conversion re-claimed the lead with 15 minutes left of the game.
In the 77th minute, Burns set up another try for the Dragons in similar fashion to the first, this time to put centre Ethan Clark-Wood over. Sullivan sealed the win for his team with a conversion from close range.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 22 - DRAGONS 26