Report: under-18s National Junior Final
The Penrith Panthers have seen off a fast-finishing Townsville Blackhawks outfit to emerge victorious in the national under-18s decider, eventually winning 38-28 in scorching Brisbane conditions.
Once again the NSW side was first to score and the opening points came through Panthers captain Sean O'Sullivan. The skipper darted through to score under the posts and slotted an easy conversion for a 6-0 lead.
For the first time that day, however, the Blackhawks hit back; a slick movement from hooker Julian Christian drew the defender and sent second-rower Brett Anderson over. It was converted to bring scores level after 10 minutes.
Just three minutes later the Panthers regained the lead through a nice left-side play to winger Jake Tago. O'Sullivan was faultless with the boot to bring up a 12-6 scoreline.
A four-pointer to Mitchell Kenny soon followed and despite good field position afforded to the Blackhawks, the Panthers remained well and truly on top. Tago crossed untouched in the 28th minute, with O'Sullivan maintaining his perfect record with the boot, before Townsville scored in the shadows of half-time through Kurt Wiltshere. With the conversion missed, Penrith enjoyed a healthy 24-10 lead at the break.
The second stanza started in scrappy fashion as both sides came up with errors, but still the defence held tight for the next 10 minutes. The Blackhawks were gradually coming out of their shell, however, and eventually found space on the right touch line via Michael Carroll. The ball went through a number of sets of hands before eventually finding Marshall Hudson, who scored next to the posts.
Just three minutes later the Blackhawks were in again, with the same part of the field opening up and giving Christian an opportunity to score. The dummy-half made no mistake and brought his side within two points, trailing 24-22.
The momentum was clearly with the Queenslanders but it was short-lived; another three minutes passed and Penrith winger Brian Too was given the football, before coming up with a brilliant solo effort to score. Once again O'Sullivan was perfect with the boot, bringing up 30 points for the Panthers.
The Blackhawks continued to come at the Panthers defence, however, with halves Oscar Carter and Jacob Bourke earning their side two line dropouts and the bulk of field possession. They looked to have gone over again through Emry Pere, but the prop forward was ruled to have knocked it on and the Panthers got a reprieve.
With 11 minutes remaining, Penrith scored again after William Burns broke the line untouched. With the conversion from in front it was 38-22 and the result was all but determined.
The game opened up even more in the final 10 minutes, with the Blackhawks trying desperately to mount a comeback - and when Wiltshere scored his second they were rewarded. Ultimately, however, Penrith saw off Townsville to win the National Junior Final 38 points to 28.
Dummy-half Treymaine Brown was awarded Man Of The Match honours after a solid year for the Panthers.