Penrith Panthers 18 (Dean Whare, David Simmons, Kevin Naiqama tries; Matt Moylan 3 goals)
Canterbury Bulldogs 16 (Trent Hodgkinson, Tim Lafai, Drury Low tries; Trent Hodgkinson 2 goals)
Jamie Soward and Matt Moylan clutched victory from the jaws of defeat as Penrith edged out Canterbury 18-16 in a Saturday afternoon thriller at SportingBet Stadium.
Back to back penalties in the final minutes gave Penrith a golden opportunity to level the game. Jamie Soward’s masterstroke play was a long pass that found the chest of Kevin Naiqama who scored in the corner.
With Peter Wallace a withdrawal from the side and Soward not kicking, it was left to Moylan to attempt the sideline conversion. Having only sixteen National Rugby League games under his belt, the adrenaline kicked in as he lined up the conversion. Having missed earlier a similar attempt and the threat of the game going into added time, Moylan kicked the ball sweetly between the posts for a nail biting victory.
The players celebrated as one, notably ex-Bulldog Jamal Idris along with many of the thirteen thousand who attended the game.
It was a contrast of halves with Penrith in total dominance during the first forty, and Canterbury the stronger in the final period.
Penrith opened the scoring as the Dean Whare-David Simmons combination was reunited in grand style. Simmons providing a pass back on the inside for Whare to cross. Adam Docker was denied a short time later after some handy work from Sam Perrett to dislodge the ball from the lock forward.
It wouldn’t be too long before Simmons scored one of his own. This time leaping uncontested for a Jamie Soward cross-field kick. Simmons would come under heavy scrutiny from the Bulldogs where on several occasions he was checked in kick chases.
Few opportunities came for the Bulldogs in the opening half as they looked disinterested and lacking energy after a big win over Cronulla on Monday night. In a play that stretched from the Panthers half and included a forward pass, Trent Hodgkinson crossed to reduce the lead to four.
The only other notable chance of the half came through Soward taking a chance on the last tackle with a chip and chase, then kicking wide for Simmons. Simmons was tackled into touch before grounding the ball.
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler literally put a rocket up his team at the break as the stalemate continued for the first twenty minutes of the second half despite a penalty goal to Moylan, and Tim Lafai going within a footstep of scoring.
With fifteen minutes remaining Canterbury’s sustained pressure was rewarded with rookie Corey Thompson scoring in the corner. Hodgkinson’s conversion levelled the scores. They took the lead after a Panthers error in the follow up to Drury Low scoring in the corner with eight remaining on the clock.
Penrith appeared defeated and struggling to get out of their own half. Piggyback penalties in the final three minutes provided the Panthers with one last chance to win the game. The experience of Soward to sum up the situation and find Naiqama in space is refreshing and morale boosting after the hot and cold era of Luke Walsh.