Penrith Save Their Season
The Warriors will meet the Penrith Panthers again in the first week of the finals after slipping to a 24-36 loss in today's final Intrust Super Premiership regular season clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
The victory saved Penrith's season, but the performance was a bitter disappointment for the home side as it conceded 24 unanswered points in the second half to allow the Panthers to turn a 12-point deficit into a 12-point win.
The Panthers had gone into the match sitting ninth on the ladder on 24 points needing a win to climb into eighth spot.
They had cause to feel confident when they broke through the Warriors' line twice on each edge for tries to centres Raymond Lesoa and George Jennings, Zach Dockar-Clay converting both for a 12-0 lead after 14 minutes.
If the defensive breaches were cause for concern, there was added anxiety when the Warriors lost front rower Ligi Sao with a shoulder injury. It was the second setback after big prop Pat Sipley had been injured in the warm-up.
Having conceded 12 points so quickly, the Warriors responded explosively with a run of 24 unanswered points in a 13-minute blitz.
The first time they had the sniff of an opportunity at Penrith's end they took it, fullback Henare Wells with a 19th-minute try.
Seven minutes later 38-year-old centre George Carmont busted out of defence, putting Viliami Kaveinga away on a long break.
It was followed soon after by a nice set play with Lino, Shaun Lane and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad in the mix, Lino flicking a short pass to Lane and the rangy second rower deftly tipping the ball back inside for Nicoll-Klokstad to run through a hole on the angle to score. Lino's conversion had the game tied up at 12-12.
On the 30-minute mark it was Carmont's turn to profit. The ex-Newcastle and Wigan star was determined to make another comeback this season after having his campaign ended by knee surgery last year.
When standoff Erin Clark floated a low chip just over the Penrith defence, Carmont stole in from the left to collect for a try Lino again converted, putting his side 18-12 in front.
From the restart the Warriors were straight back at the Panthers, Lino breaking through with players supporting on the inside and the outside. Instead of going through the hands, Lino punched through a grubber to the right, Nicoll-Klokstad racing onto it to pick up and score. Lino's conversion from wide out was superb to take the Warriors 24-12 ahead after 32 minutes.
They protected that through to half-time but yielded the first points of the second half when second rower Corey Harawira-Naera wasn't checked by the Warriors' right edge, stealing through to score a try Dockar-Clay again converted.
Now there was just six points in it, the Warriors leading 24-18 after 48 minutes.
After a grinding period Penrith was on level terms at 24-24 after 64 minutes when the Warriors weren't able to defuse a bomb, Panthers right winger Zac Mackay scoring wide out and Dockar-Clay converting.
Five minutes later the visitors had the lead when prop Viliame Kikau scored near the posts, rumbling through the Warriors from close range.
The try was converted and the advantage was out to 30-24.
The Warriors, guilty of an error-ridden second half effort, couldn't respond and in the final minute Penrith completed an outstanding comeback victory, hitting the right edge for Mackay to step back inside for his second try.
The goal-kicking was outstanding in perfect conditions, Dockar-Clay making it six from six to seal the deal (Lino also without a miss in four attempts).