Penrith have withstood a second-half comeback from the Wests Tigers to a record a much needed 12-10 win at a soggy Pepper Stadium today.
A 66th minute penalty goal to Will Smith ultimately proved to be the difference as Penrith recorded their first win since Round 2 in a high-quality game despite the wet conditions.
The Wests Tigers, who would have already fancied their chances given the quality of their side particularly in the backs, received a further boost when David Nofoaluma passed a late fitness test to take his place in the team.
Conversely Penrith were dealt a double blow before kick-off when it was announced that Waqa Blake and Sam Anderson were late withdrawals although they received some good news with the late inclusion of Isaac John.
After a tense opening 20-minute period that saw neither side able to create opportunities, it was Penrith who opened their account. A series of repeat sets inside the Tigers’ 20m zone enabled a quick shift left that allowed centre Nu’u Akeripa to break through an attempted tackle from his opposite number Nofoaluma to score out wide and give the Panthers a 4-0 lead after 23 minutes.
In direct contrast to last week’s plethora of first half errors against the Knights, it took 34 minutes for the Panthers to produce their first error of the game after fullback Will Smith spilled a bomb close to his own line.
The Tigers opportunity to hit back took a turn for the worse when a Josh Drinkwater grubber kick was taken on the line by Smith, who proceeded to run 30 metres up-field before being tackled. From the play the ball, a quick shift from one side of the field to the other saw George Jennings burst clear before he sent Akeripa away down the left touchline to score next to the posts. John’s conversion extended Penrith’s lead to 10; a potential 12-point turnaround had Drinkwater’s kick found his own team mates instead of Smith.
Wests Tigers responded early in the second half when a penalty allowed the Tigers to attack inside Penrith’s 20m zone. Drinkwater and Shannon McDonnell combined brilliantly for Chance Peni to the break the line and score out wide but Drinkwater missed the difficult conversion to leave the Tigers trailing by six.
Errors started to creep into Penrith’s game which eventually allowed the Tigers to level the scores midway through the second half when Drinkwater kicked smartly behind the line for McDonnell to steam through and dive on the loose ball to score. The halfback’s simple conversion locked up the scores at 10-10 with 20 minutes remaining.
Penrith regained the lead five minutes later after a long run from Robert Jennings saw the centre rounded up short of the try-line. A subsequent penalty conceded by the Tigers in the play the ball gifted Smith the simple shot at goal for the Panthers to hit the front 12-10.
A Nofoaluma line break down the right edge with eight minutes remaining could have easily resulted in a penalty to the Tigers after a kick through from the centre appeared to be played at by a Penrith player in an offside position but was missed by referee Jon Stone.
Wests Tigers had further chances to steal the game but a combination of poor execution and desperate Panthers defence allowed the defending premiers to hang on for a crucial two-point victory.
For Penrith, their forwards set the platform early on and allowed their halves John and Sam Scarlett to execute an aggressive kick chase game that would see the Tigers often start their sets from deep inside their own half. Josh Drinkwater and Shannon McDonnell had their moments in attack for the Tigers but errors at crucial times, cruelled their chances of avoiding their second loss in succession.
Next Saturday, Penrith will play their second consecutive game at home when they play hosts to the Manly Sea-Eagles while the Wests Tigers will travel across to the Tasman to take on the New Zealand Warriors; never an easy game on their home turf.
Penrith Panthers 12 (Nu’u Akeripa 2 tries; Isaac John 1 goal, Will Smith 1 goal) bt Wests Tigers 10 (Chane Peni, Shannon McDonnell tries; Josh Drinkwater 1 goal)