Penrith has pulled off the Great Escape scoring 14 points in the last 5 minutes of the game to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat to keep the winning streak alive after recording a 20-14 at Mt Smart Stadium today. With Wentworthville losing to Newcastle, Penrith are now sole leaders of the NSW Cup having won 13 of their last 14 games including nine straight.
While coach Garth Brennan would not have been impressed by his team’s execution in attack, he could not question their commitment in coming back from the dead & their ability to put in a more disciplined performance conceding just 3 first half penalties.
Penrith made just the one late change with Jamal Idris withdrawn from the game & promoted to the NRL side with Kevin Naiqama coming in as his replacement. The Warriors were hampered by the late withdrawal of Dominique Peyroux called up as 18th man for the NRL team, replaced by Sam Cook.
The Warriors started play the brighter & a David Bhana linebreak from halfway allowed the Warriors to spread the play left 10m out on with Cook & Tuimavave combining to put winger Jarrod Rua in the corner for the opening try of the game, which Lolohea couldn’t convert.
The Warriors could have had a second try soon after but they failed to capitalise on repeat sets gained from an Abraham Papalii linebreak from halfway. Penrith lacked cohesion particularly when play shifted down their left as Luke Capewell struggled to get into the groove having just returned from a long layoff due to injury.
However Capewell’s game came good when a cross-field kick was spectacularly regathered mid-air by centre Waqa Blake to score his 8th try in as many matches in the 28th minute. Wes Naiqama’s conversion from near the right touchline giving the Panthers a 6-4 lead.
The Warriors had three great opportunities to regain the lead in the closing minutes of the half. A Sam Lousi offload found Tua 10m out but the ensuing pass inside from the winger was intercepted just short of the line by Will Smith. Minutes later Tua blew a golden opportunity losing the ball as he proceeded to plant the ball over the line. On a stroke of half time a line break from Solomone Kata allowed the Warriors to spread play down the right & advanced play to the 10m line before a wayward pass inside missed the support player & another try was bombed leaving the Panthers leading at half time 6-4.
Penrith restarted play in the 2nd half making numerous errors in possession but should have gone ahead in the 54th minute when Tom Humble’s grubber was regathered by a flying Blake only for the centre to drop the ball off his foot in the process of putting the ball down. The error was further compounded in the next set when Eto Nabuli couldn’t handle a grubber from Lolohea & Raymond Fatalia-Mariner was on hand to regather & go 15m to score out wide & with the successful conversion from Lolohea, the Warriors had a 12 point turnaround leading 10-6.
The Panthers continued to play error-riddled football & were further punished in the 64th minute after repeat sets inside the Penrith 20m zone told on the Panthers defensive line when a Havili short ball from dummy half allowed Steve Weatford to plunge over for the try despite the efforts of two Panthers defenders. Lolohea wasn’t having a great day with the boot but with 14 minutes remaining the Warriors were on track for an upset victory leading 14-6.
The Panthers continued to make errors & poorly execute in promising situations but a quick spread left in the 75th minute from 30m out allowed Kevin Naiqama to provide a cut out pass to Eto Nabuli & the Fijian Flyer needed little invitation beating two defenders in a scorching 25m run down the left touchline. Wes Naiqama’s conversion from the left sideline put the Panthers right back in the game when it looked for all money they were gone, trailing 14-12.
In the next set, a big roll forward from a rejuvenated Penrith pack gave Humble the opportunity to get field position to put up the bomb but in doing so was tackled in a dangerous position. The Panthers opted to take the shot for goal from 25m out directly in front & Wes Naiqama duly obliged levelling the scores with just 3 minutes remaining.
Penrith completed an unlikely comeback win in spectacular fashion from the ensuing set when a shift left 70m out from the Warriors try line allowed Matt Robinson to offload to Wes Naiqama & with quick hands send Nabuli away again down the left touchline on another run before offloading 10m out back to Wes Naiqama who sized up the situation brilliantly drawing the fullback before passing on to Kevin Kingston to go over for the try. Wes Naiqama’s 4th goal from as many attempts put the icing on the cake as Penrith stole this game, winning 20-14.
Next Sunday, the Panthers will attempt to stretch their winning streak to 10 in what should be in front of a hostile crowd when they take on a Wests Tigers outfit keen to redeem themselves after an upset loss at home to Mounties ended their 6 game winning streak.
Penrith Panthers 20 (Blake, Nabuli, Kingston tries; Wes Naiqama 4 goals from 4 attempts) d. New Zealand Warriors 14 (Tua, Fatalia-Mariner, Weatford tries; Lolohea 1 goal from 3 attempts) at Mt Smart Stadium.