The Northern Pride claimed the inaugural NRL State Championship at ANZ Stadium earlier today when they defeated the Penrith Panthers 32-28 in what was a fabulous advertisement for second tier rugby league.
It was a fast start for the visitors when Storm bound number six, Shaun Nona put in a beautiful stab kick which was chased down and grounded by Blake Keary for the opening points of the match early doors.
And just a few minutes later the Pride had extended their lead to 8-0 when another kick saw Javid Bowen cross out wide.
The Panthers hit back though in the 17th minute when a determined effort by Kevin Naiqama, who looked set to be pushed into touch, managed to show speed and strength to evade some would be tacklers and then got a nice ball away to Luke Capewell who sprinted clear to get the Panthers on the board.
And then in the 23rd minute the Panthers took the lead for the first time as some nice hands from Vaipuna Tia Kilifi and Leilani Latu eventually saw an unmarked Eto Nabuli dot down for his first of the afternoon.
Now leading it 12-8, the Panthers began to look the more in control of the two sides however after a Pride kick went touch-in-goal, Kieran Moss sprinted back out for a fast restart only to have the ball brilliantly stripped by Shaun Nona one on one and he then sent the ball out to Javid Bowen who grabbed himself a first half double.
The see-sawing flow to the first half continued when in the 35th minute Waqa Blake scored an athletic try after some nice lead up work by Nathan Smith and Kieran Moss. Naiqama was unable to add the extras but the Panthers looked set to take a two point lead into the main break.
But a Pride penalty in the shadows of the half time siren saw Shaun Nona lock things up and both sides headed to the sheds for a well-deserved break.
After the resumption the NSW based outfit got off to the perfect start when interchange hooker Kierran Moseley darted over inside the opening five minutes and then in the 52nd minute a great break by Tom Humble saw him almost go all the way himself but after being dragged down a few metres short, Humble wasn’t wrapped up on the ground and popped a ball to one of the best supporting players in the game, Kieran Moss, who scored the Panthers fifth of the day.
Now trailing 28-16 the Pride knew that they needed to be next to strike and some repeat sets saw them do just that when Semi Tadulala did amazingly well to ground the ball just millimetres inside the touch line.
And momentum was officially with the visitors when a towering Pride kick couldn’t be taken by Wes Naiqama and Javid Bowen was ‘Johnny-On-The-Spot’ to not only grab his third of the day and also the try that saw the Pride move back to within touching distance of the Panthers.
With the game now sitting on a knifes edge, the Panthers probably should have extended their lead with 12 minutes left however Kevin Naiqama and Eto Nabuli weren’t on the same page when Nabuli looked certain to score, and then down the other end, another Wes Naiqama mistake under the high ball handed the Pride the perfect opportunity to take the lead and they accepted it with both hands.
Some lazy Panthers defence in the middle third was caught wanting as Tyrone McCarthy strolled through a yawning gap, and with Bowen’s conversion, the Queenslander’s now led it by four points.
Down 32-28 the Panthers, try as they might, couldn’t find a match winner and when another Panthers error saw the ball roll over the sideline that was full time and signalled a well-deserved win to the Northern Pride.
Northern Pride 32 (Javid Bowen 3, Semi Tadulala, Tyrone McCarthy, Blake Leary tries; Shaun Nona 2, Javid Bowen 2 goals) def. Penrith Panthers 28 (Luke Capewell, Eto Nabuli, Waqa Blake, Kieran Moss, Kierran Moseley tries; Wes Naiqama 4 goals) at ANZ Stadium