Defending premiers Penrith repelled a physical challenge from the Sharks to come away with a 20-10 win at BlueBet Stadium on Saturday night.
After falling behind 10-0 early, the Panthers slowly worked their way back into the game and had the class to grind out their 17th victory of the season.
The Sharks made the ideal start a Matt Moylan bomb was tapped back to Jesse Ramien who found Connor Tracey and the winger stepped off his right foot and beat four Panthers defenders to score in the corner after eight minutes.
Cronulla's kicking game came to the fore again in the 12th minute when a towering Nicho Hynes kick was spilled by Dylan Edwards and two plays later Moylan burrowed over from close range to make it 10-0.
The Panthers gradually worked their way back into the game and six minutes before half-time they got their first of the night when some brilliant deception out of dummy half by Api Koroisau created space for Jarome Luai to put Izack Tago over.
Try for Tracey
A penalty against Sharks veteran Andrew Fifita in the 40th minute for a flop handed Nathan Cleary the chance to close the gap to 10-8 with a penalty goal.
Trailing at half-time on their home ground for the first time since the opening round of the 2020 season, the Panthers took just 50 seconds to grab the lead when fullback Dylan Edwards crossed for his sixth try of the season after great lead-up work by Viliame Kikau, Tago and Taylan May.
With the Sharks mounting pressure in the 55th minute, Cleary came up with a game-changing play when he drilled a line dropout into touch just over the 10-metre line and the Panthers got the ball back.
An offside penalty against Cronulla in the 63rd minute gave Penrith a chance to extend their lead to six but they chose to run the ball and Mitch Kenny came up with an error on play one to let the Sharks off the hook.
With the game in the balance a dropped ball by Tracey handed the Panthers the chance to ice the game and Koroisau turned the screws with a grubber to earn six more tackles before Luai powered over from close range to make it 18-10.
Cleary calmly knocked over the conversion and the premiers had turned a 10-point deficit into a 10-point win over one of the teams considered a legitimate challenger for their crown.
Too good Tago
- When the Sharks went out to a 10-0 lead it signalled the first time all season that Penrith had been behind by double figures.
- Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards entered the game averaging 220 metres per game and came up with another 228 metres tonight. The No.1 gun threw in eight tackle breaks and a try for good measure.
- The Panthers have won 25 of their past 26 games at BlueBet Stadium.
- Scott Sorensen gave the Panthers plenty of impact off the bench, running for 160 metres in 49 minutes of game time.
Match: Panthers v Sharks
Round 19 -
Venue: BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
- Blayke Brailey racked up 59 tackles for the Sharks in another tireless defensive effort. He was well supported by Cameron McInnes (44 tackles), Briton Nikora (43) and Dale Finucane (40).
- Panthers centre Stephen Crichton left the field for a HIA in the 71st minute after a head clash with Dale Finucane.
- Brian To'o was back to his metre-eating best for Penrith with 207 metres from 22 runs.
- The Panthers have won five of their past six games against the Sharks.
Away goes To'o
Play of the Game
Down by two points at the break the home side came out breathing fire. Hooker Api Koroisau went down the short side from his own side of halfway and found Jarome Luai who got ball on to Viliame Kikau. The big back-rower showed nice hands to find Izack Tago who put Taylan May away down the left flank and the winger delivered the final pass back inside for Dylan Edwards to race away and score. A magnificent team try brought the Panthers faithful to their feet and fired a shot across the bow of the Sharks as a high-quality contest went to another level.
What a start for the Panthers
What They Said
"I thought we were a bit impatient at 10-0 down but once we scored I felt like we calmed down a bit. The try after half-time was crucial to get us in front was crucial. It wasn't the prettiest of games by us, lacked a bit of cohesion I thought, but totally expected after six weeks where probably half the team were lucky to have done a handful of sessions so it's good to get the win." - Panthers coach Ivan Cleary
Panthers: Round 19
"We executed poorly in the second half and allowed a quality team to control the field position and they don't go away. I just don't think we mounted enough pressure in the end. Loved our effort, loved the spirit we played with, we were in the contest, we ticked a lot of boxes in that regard tonight but we knew if we were going to get something out of tonight we were going to have to execute, so I'm just a little bit disappointed about that." - Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon
Sharks: Round 19
The Panthers head to CommBank Stadium on Friday to take on the Eels in the western Sydney derby while the Sharks are at home to the Rabbitohs. Both matches will have a big bearing on the race for the eight.