By Emma Duxbury at Mt Smart Stadium
The Panthers pulled off a miraculous comeback, beating the Warriors 20-14 at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday.
Penrith was 14-6 down just after half time and looked like they were going to be demolished by a very strong Kiwi outfit, but a brilliant try in the dying minutes turned the tables and gave them the win.
There was just one change to the Panthers side before kickoff, with Kevin Naiqama returning in place of Jamal Idris who would make his return to the NRL.
It was a lacklustre start for both teams who gave away some early penalties and made a few handling errors in the opening minutes of the match. While the Panthers defended well, they were very lucky at times and missed more tackles then they should have.
The Warriors found their feet first and weren’t shy in showing the Panthers just how strong and powerful they could be. They were aggressive in attack and made several line breaks, before putting the first points on the board.
The try came at the 10 minute mark after Sam Cook broke through multiple tackle attempts to get the home side to the 20m line, and after drawing Penrith in, they sent the ball wide to unmarked winger Jarrod Tua who dived over the line. The kick was waived away, and it was 4-0.
For the next 15 minutes the ball went back and forth, up and down the field with both sides defending strongly and trying desperately to get close to their lines.
And it was Waqa Blake from the Panthers who eventually went over. Luke Capewell put a high cross-field kick over to the right corner and Blake jumped into the air, beating a bunch of Warriors defenders, before diving down to ground the ball. Wes Naiqama converted, and Penrith took the lead 6-4, in the 27th minute.
The rest of the half was played in the middle of the park, with neither team making much headway towards their line.
Penrith had a much better start to this half and almost had their second try in the 52nd minute, when Blake chased a Tom Humble kick, collected the ball and went to put it down. But just as he was about to touch the grass, the ball hit his boot and he knocked it loose, and it was a no try.
A careless mistake by Eto Nabuli then handed the home side their next try in the next set, and it was at this point that the game looked to have shifted, with the Warriors looking dominant. The home side kicked on the fifth and as Nabuli went for the ball he fumbled, and it spilled into some open space where Faitala Mariner scooped it up and ran over the line. The kick went straight through the uprights, giving the Kiwi’s a 10-6 lead.
Ten minutes later, they were over again due to some very poor defence by the Panthers. Upu Poching took the ball from dummy half on the 10m line and sent it to halfback Steve Waetford, who found a hole in our backline and ran straight in to score. The kick was off target, so the home side extended their lead to 14-6.
In the 73rd minute, there was a small glimmer of hope for the Panthers when Kevin Naiqama threw a cut out pass to Eto Nabuli on the wing, and the big Fijian took off down the sideline, sprinting 40m before diving over to score. Wes Naiqama’s kick went straight through the posts, making it a two point game.
That glimmer got brighter when Penrith was awarded a penalty in front of the posts after Tom Humble was taken out mid-air. Wes took the kick and added the two points to draw level with the Warriors at 14-14, with less than five minutes on the clock.
Just when it looked like we’d see a last minute battle of field goals, Penrith came up with a brilliant try to steal the win.
It started just past the halfway line when Liam Ayoub took the ball from dummy half and sent it left where it passed through the hands of half a dozen players before Eto Nabuli got a beautiful offload away to Wes Naiqama, who flicked it to Kevin Kingston, and he dived over the line to win the game.
This weekend the Panthers travel to Leichhardt Oval on Sunday to tackle the Tigers while the Warriors will enjoy the bye.
Penrith Panthers 20 (W Blake, E Nabuli, K Kingston tries; W Naiqama 4 goals) def. New Zealand Warriors 14 (R Faitala Mariner, J Tua, S Waetford tries; T Lolohea goal) at Mt Smart Stadium.