By Stew Moses at Allianz Stadium
The Panthers winning streak was abruptly ended at 11 games with the Newtown Jets showing tremendous character when all looked lost at the 60 minute mark to storm home and score25 unanswered points in just 14 minutes to complete the most unlikely and thrilling comeback of the season, winning 31-30 at Allianz Stadium on the weekend.
The result was one for the true believers especially considering Newtown was outscored six tries to five, completed less sets than their counterparts, made more errors, broke the line just twice all games yet somehow conjured an amazing win to keep their finals hopes alive.
Eto Nabuli’s 2nd minute try from a Tom Humble kick was cancelled out when a Dureau cross field kick was taken from Wes Naiqama’s grasps by Nathan Stapleton to score 10 minutes later.
But a Sio Siua Taukeiho error from the next set was pivotal as the Panthers proceeded to score back to back tries.
The first try to Naiqama came from Tom Humble’s pet play of going right wrapping around Sam Anderson before linking with Waqa Blake who provided his winger with a 15 metre saloon passage to the try line and was duly converted by the Fijian veteran from the touchline.
Quick play the balls in the next set allowed the Panthers forwards to roll downfield before Matt Robinson broke through up the middle from 40 metres out before offloading to Luke Capewell to score underneath the posts giving Penrith a handy 16-6 lead.
The Panthers soon extended that lead to 16 points when Humble attacked the Newtown left edge once again, this time from 35 metres out linking with Vaipuna Tia Kilifi before the back-rower popped a great offload to Kieran Moss to burst clear, before putting Naiqama in for his second try of the afternoon.
The kicking game of Humble and Capewell with the strong wind behind them placed plenty of pressure on Newtown’s back three and the Panthers could have extended their lead even further shortly before half time when Capewell’s cross field kick was batted back by Nabuli only to be fumbled by Robinson close to the try line with the Jets defence at sixes and sevens.
Penrith were hampered early in the second half with Robinson withdrawn for 18th man duties with the NRL team and compounded soon after with Tim Grant forced out of the game with a hamstring injury.
But the Panthers looked anything but hamstrung when scoring two tries in the opening ten minutes as the Jets gifted Penrith two tries through fundamental errors to Anthony Cherrington and Nathan Smith.
The Panthers looked in control leading 30-6 as they headed into the final 20 minutes of the game, but what has often been the case in this winning streak, the Panthers once again took the foot off the pedal, inviting the Jets back into the game.
A 61st minute Dureau cross field kick was spilt by Naiqama and the loose ball was pounced upon by Harris to score out wide.
Minutes later Harris came up with one of the plays of the season winning a scrum against the feed and two tackles later Kane Evans barged his way over from a reverse pass from Kurt Kara.
The Panthers inability to secure any possession continued when a Humble kick from a rare Penrith penalty failed to find touch, compounded further by a penalty for a high tackle that saw the Penrith five-eighth placed on report.
That man again, David Harris came up trumps with a crucial play from dummy half putting in a grubber kick into the in-goal that evaded Naiqama and allowed Jonathon Reuben to ground the ball just inside the dead ball line. Stapleton’s goal kicking was spot on from the touchline in tricky conditions to give the Jets hope trailing by just six with still 11 minutes remaining.
Another penalty to Newtown late in the tackle count allowed the Jets to attack once more and in the 73rd minute Kara went on a short blindside play linking with Stapleton whose cut out pass allowed Matt Evans enough space to evade Nabuli and score in the right corner. Stapleton completed a perfect day with the boot with another magnificent conversion from the sideline to level the scores.
Humble’s horror final 20 minutes of play after being the dominant player on the field for the previous 60 minutes continued when he kicked out on the full from the kick-off gifting Newtown the opportunity to steal the lead, which they duly did when Dureau kicked the field goal from 15 metres out.
Penrith finally got some sets in the closing minutes and were hell bent on tying the game through a field goal of their own but two field goal attempts from Humble were charged down and a final attempt on the siren was sprayed wide by Will Smith to give Newtown a memorable win.
Penrith take their home match out to Bathurst this weekend and will face Cronulla while the Jets are in action against the Dogs at Belmore on Friday night.
Newtown Jets 31 (J Reuben, N Stapleton, M Evans, D Harris, K Evans tries; N Stapleton 5 goals; S Dureau field goal) def. Penrith Panthers 30 (W Naiqama 2, L Capewell, E Nabuli, A Cherrington, N Smith tries; W Naiqama 3 goals) at Allianz Stadium.