By Adam Kidd at Leichhardt Oval
The Penrith Panthers continued their winning ways in the VB NSW Cup on Saturday, defeating Mounties 18-12 in dour conditions at Leichhardt Oval.
The Panthers have now won 14 of their last 15 games heading into the final round of the regular season and are in a strong position to win their first title since 1987.
On the back of a 40-0 thumping of North Sydney, the inclusion of former NSW State of Origin player Terry Campese was expected to provide Mounties with a considerable boost with a top-four position on the line.
The Panthers went close to scoring in the opening minutes with Eto Nabuli breaking clear only to be pulled down in a brilliant cover tackle by Jack Ahearn. They weren’t to be denied moments later however, with Luke Capewell backing up a strong bust by Vaipuna Tia Kilifi to score the opening try.
Kevin Naiqama went close to extending the Panthers lead five minutes later, but a desperate Mounties defence was able to hold him up in goal to deny the try.
Unforced errors were beginning to hurt Mounties and they were made to pay when Tom Eisenhuth burrowed through some lazy defence to extend the Panthers lead, with Wes Naiqama adding the extras from the sideline for a 12-0 lead after 25 minutes.
Mounties almost hit back immediately with Terry Campese prying open the Panthers defence to find Mosese Pangai, but the big centre was unable to hold onto the ball in a rare attacking set on the Panthers line.
With only minutes remaining in the first half, Mounties were presented with another attacking opportunity and Shane Shackleton made it two tries in two weeks with a barging effort through the defence for a 12-6 score line at half-time.
The greasy conditions were intensified by heavy rain during the break, and both sides seemed to struggle with the conditions in the opening stages of the second half.
A lapse in concentration was all it took for the Panthers to strike, with Adam Tangata spilling a pass from Reece Robinson coming off his own line for Leilani Latu to dive on the ball for the easiest of tries and an 18-6 lead after 60 minutes.
Mounties afternoon became worse in the 70th minute when Daniel Foster was sin-binned for throwing a punch at half-back Ryan Carr; leaving his side a man down for the rest of the match.
Despite throwing everything at the Panthers line in the final ten minutes, Mounties were only able to come up with a try in the final seconds of the game with Ryan Carr diving on a Campese grubber for final score of 18-12.
The Panthers will host Wentworthville in the final round of the VB NSW Cup for a top of the table clash with the Magpies, whilst Mounties will look to finish in the top-four when they host the Sharks at Aubrey Keech Reserve.
Penrith Panthers 18 (T Eisenhuth, L Capewell, L Latu tries; W Naiqama 3 goals) def. Mounties 12 (R Carr, S Shackleton tries; T Campese 2 goals) at Leichhardt Oval.