By Nathan Beuman at Collegians Sports Complex
The Penrith Panthers have extended their winning streak to five games, following a nail-biting 19-18 win over the Illawarra Cutters at Collegians Sports Complex in Wollongong.
A field goal from right in front with less than five minutes remaining by Penrith halfback Tom Humble secured the win for the Panthers, sending them to the top of the VB NSW Cup table.
Penrith were boosted prior to kick-off with the addition of prop Tim Grant to their already experienced line-up, while Dragons back rower Jack De Belin was named to start at lock for the Cutters.
Illawarra were able to capitalise on an early run of possession to start the match, posting first points of the afternoon courtesy of a cut out pass from Sam Duggan to an unmarked Charly Runciman out wide.
Despite slipping over on the chewed up surface, Michael Witt managed to scrape the ball between the uprights to give the Cutters a 6-0 lead after just nine minutes.
It didn’t take long for the Panthers to respond, with Tom Humble using a big right foot step close at the line to catch the Illawarra defenders out, before poking his head through and slamming the ball down under the black dot.
Wes Naiqama had no problem with the conversion, locking the score up at 6 a piece after 18 minutes.
Off the ensuing kickoff, Penrith hooker Kierran Moseley made a break out of dummy half, before linking up with a flying Kieran Moss, who put the ball down under the posts, allowing Wes Naiqama to extend the Panthers lead out to 12-6 after just 20 minutes.
Just like the Cutters first try, poor discipline lead to points for the home side, when Shannon Wakeman managed to get the ball down despite three defenders hanging off him, before Witt levelled the scores back up two minutes before half time.
Illawarra started the second half the way they finished the first, with a rocket cut-out pass from Michael Witt putting Jack De Belin into a yawning gap, before the back rower put the ball down just to the left of the upright, allowing Witt to put the Cutters up 18-12 with just over half an hour remaining.
After more than a half of football without any points, the Panthers were in again, courtesy of some quick hands from the Penrith left hand edge, putting Eto Nabuli over, before Wes Naiqama’s conversion hit the upright, giving the Cutters an 18-16 lead with 18 minutes remaining.
Up by just two points with under ten minutes remaining, Cutters head coach Ian Millward would have been livid when his side gave away a penalty for holding down, allowing Wes Naiqama to even the scores back up at 18 apiece.
Penrith continued to pressure the Cutters line in the final stages of the match, securing a repeat set, before Tom Humble slotted a field goal from 25 metres out with only minutes remaining until full time.
The Panthers will host the Roos this Saturday at Sportingbet Stadium while the Cutters are at WIN Stadium and they will host the Sharks.
Penrith Panthers 19 (E Nabuli, K Moss, T Humble tries; W Naiqama 3 goals; T Humble field goal) def. Illawarra Cutters 18 (S Wakeman, J de Belin, C Runciman tries; M Witt 3 goals) at Collegians Sports Complex.