By Stewart Moses at North Sydney Oval
Penrith held off a fast-finishing Bears outfit down on experience but not in spirit to record win number eight in a row and 12 from their last 13 games to maintain top spot with a 32-28 win at North Sydney Oval.
Penrith made just the one late change but it was a big inclusion with Jamal Idris coming in for Wes Naiqama in the centres, while the Bears made some positional changes bringing in Souths Under 20’s squad members Irae Simone and Tulsa Suamamao.
Penrith opened the scoring in the 8th minute when a quick play the ball allowed Kingston to take advantage of some slack marker defending from the Bears to go 15 metres and score out wide right. Will Smith’s conversion giving the Panthers a dream 6-0 start.
Some sloppy play from Penrith when in possession allowed Norths to hit back six minutes later when a Keary cross field bomb was dropped by Kevin Naiqama in his own in-goal and winger Curtis Johnston pounced on the loose ball for the easiest of tries. Keary’s conversion from out wide levelling the scores.
Penrith regained the lead just two sets later when a clearing kick was fielded by the Panthers fullback Kieran Moss who scorched through the Bears’ kick chasers to go 90 metres to score under the posts to allow the Panthers to lead 12-6.
The remainder of the half was punctuated with errors from Penrith but the Bears couldn’t convert their territorial advantage into points. A Luke Keary cross field kick in the 37th minute not only eluded Eto Nabuli but also an unmarked Mark O’Dare, who was unable to reach the kick before the ball went out of play.
To make matters worse on the stroke of half time the Panthers received a rare penalty and one play was enough for Penrith to construct a play 35 metres out from the Bears line where the ball shifted right before Moss grubber kicked through for Waqa Blake to regather and flick the ball out to Kevin Naiqama who stepped inside the fullback to score the try and give Penrith a rather fortunate 16-6 lead at half time.
The second half saw Penrith quickly invite the Bears back into the contest with two back-to-back penalties that allowed the Bears to go deep on the attack where Luke Keary provided a short ball to interchange forward Steve Tavita to score next to the posts from close range and the game was in the balance at 16-12.
An error a few plays into the next set from the kick off was the catalyst for Penrith’s next try scored by Waqa Blake after play went right with Tom Humble combining with Moss to put the Fijian centre on a 15 metre bustling run to the try line. Will Smith couldn’t convert from out near the right sideline but after 48 minutes Penrith led 20-12.
Penrith extended their lead with back-to-back tries midway through the second half.
The first scored by Ryan Simpkins, a simple dummy and dive over the try line from dummy half after the Panthers were marched downfield by two Liam Nicholls penalties in quick succession.
The second try came in the next set when back rower Ben Murdoch-Masila burst through from halfway before finding that man Kieran Moss backing up to score his second try for the game under the posts and the Panthers suddenly led 32-12.
Penrith, as has been the case in recent games, clocked off with 15 minutes to go allowing the Bears to score 16 unanswered points and almost cause the upset of the season by not respecting possession and conceding repeated penalties.
A stylish backline movement to the right was finished off in style from close range with O’Dare diving over in the corner and duly converted by hooker Kurt Aldridge with 11 minutes remaining.
In the 75th minute, the gap was reduced further when a simple one out play allowed back-rower Chris Grevsmuhl to crash over out wide from close range before a79th minute try to Joe Uluibau, after Bryce Cartwright turned over possession on his own 40 metre line set up a grandstand finish for the Bears trailing by just four points with one set of six remaining.
Penrith were good enough to repel the Bears final flurry with the ball to run out winners 32-28.
Next Sunday, the Panthers continue their three game stretch playing away from home when they travel across the Tasman to take on the Warriors while North Sydney will have the bye.
Penrith Panthers 32 (K Moss 2, W Blake, K Naiqama, R Simpkins, K Kingston tries; W Smith 4 goals) def. North Sydney Bears 28 (S Tavita, C Grevsmuhl, C Johnston, M O'Dare, J Uluibau tries; K Aldridge 3, I Simone goals) at North Sydney Oval.