Highlights: Jets v Panthers (Rd 23)
Penrith utility Maliko Filino’s second half hat-trick, including the 79th-minute match winner, inspired the Panthers to escape Henson Park with a heart-stopping 20-18 win that virtually ends the Jets’ finals hopes.
Filino was Penrith’s “Mr Fix It” having started from the interchange initially at hooker before playing at left centre and finally as the right-edge back-rower as injuries to Ben Murdoch-Masila (ankle) and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak (calf) during the second half threatened to hamper the Panthers’ efforts.
Penrith’s win combined with round 23 losses to Newcastle and Bulldogs, has secured the defending premiers a top-four finish while remaining in a four-way hunt for the minor premiership with two rounds remaining.
A determined Newtown side dominated the early exchanges and were rewarded with a try in the 5th minute to five-eighth Blake Ayshford, who stepped through some feeble defence to score from close range for a 6-0 lead.
Newtown continued to apply the pressure over the next 10 minutes but Penrith’s cover defence prevented the Jets from extending their lead.
The tide soon turned and the weight of possession inside Newtown’s half finally led to Penrith levelling the scores after 25 minutes when Sione Katoa’s short ball from dummy half allowed skipper Sam Anderson to barge his way to score under the posts from close range.
Penrith were starting to gain the upper hand before a poorly attempted offload from Waqa Blake deep inside his own half was capitalised upon in Newtown’s next set.
A spread left allowed Nathan Gardner to score in the corner on the stroke of half time and with Murphy’s sideline conversion the Jets led 12-6.
Penrith’s patience with possession improved after half time resulting in two tries to Filino, both scored down Newtown’s right edge defence that allowed the Panthers to take a 16-12 lead midway through the half.
The Jets regained the lead with 13 minutes remaining after an incisive run from Junior Roqica led to an offload that Murphy pounced upon and instinctively kicked ahead from 20 metres out before a wicked bounce of the ball evaded Kieran Moss and into the hands of the halfback to score under the posts.
Just as it appeared the Jets would hold out to record their third consecutive win over the Panthers, Penrith produced one last set that allowed them to attack deep inside Newtown’s 20-metre zone.
After Corey Harawira-Naera was denied a try in the left corner by some last-ditch Jets defence, the next play saw Penrith shift the ball back across the field before Sam Scarlett put Filino through the gap to snatch two vital competition points for the Panthers.
Penrith now travel to Mount Smart Stadium next Saturday to take on co-leaders in a match that will have a major bearing on deciding the minor premiership for 2015, while Newtown take on the Newcastle Knights at Remondis Stadium.
Penrith Panthers 20 (M Filino 3, S Anderson tries; C Harawira-Naera 2 goals) def Newtown Jets 18 (B Ayshford, N Gardner, T Murphy tries; T Murphy 3 goals) at Henson Park.