Penrith’s run of outs has continued in pain-staking fashion, courtesy of an 80th-minute conversion from the side-line from Fa’amanu Brown that completed a wonderful comeback 18-16 win for the Newtown Jets at Pepper Stadium.
The win didn’t look possible as Penrith went into the last 10 minutes looking the more likely to add points, when leading at 16-4 but a 90-metre intercept try to winger Eldrick Lee set up the exciting finish before back-rower Jayden Walker showed remarkable pace of his own to score the match-winning try in the 79th minute to the stun the home crowd.
The game for long periods didn’t reach any great heights with both sides often guilty of taking the wrong option especially on the last play but it was Newtown who maintained their composure when it mattered most to secure two precious competition points.
Penrith came into the game bolstered by the inclusion of Sitaleki Akauola, Corey Harawira-Naera and Viliame Kikau all of whom having seen plenty of NRL action in season 2017, while the Jets were forced to come into the game minus Joseph Paulo.
It didn’t take long for the pre-season competition favourites to open their account when a well-placed grubber from Jarome Luai resulted in a try to Harawira-Naera out wide to give the home side a 4-0 lead after six minutes.
Both sides had plenty of opportunities to score points but failed to do so on the back of wrong options, pushed passes and poor ball security.
But Penrith finally extended the lead with just six minutes remaining to half-time when a shift left inside the Jets’ 20-metre zone allowed Edwards to throw a peach of a cut out pass to an unmarked Lachlan Stein to stroll over in the corner to score, converted from the sideline by Nicholls to push the lead out to 10.
Newtown having weathered some early attacking opportunities in the second half, finally opened their account when half Fa’amanu Brown took advantage of some tiring Penrith defence to slice though and score out wide from close range and with his own conversion, suddenly trailed by just the four points midway through the second half.
But their comeback appeared short-lived when Darren Nicholls finished off some good lead-up work from the ever elusive Jarome Luai to score next to the posts and with his own conversion pushed the lead back out to 10 with 16 minutes remaining.
Penrith had the opportunity to put the game beyond doubt when Akauola stormed through several tackles close to the line but lost the ball in attempting to reach down and score.
The home side were made to pay for that missed opportunity in the 71st minute when a Dylan Edwards pass was intercepted by Eldrick Lee, who streaked away over 90 metres to set up the grandstand finish with the Jets again trailing by just the four points.
The Jets completed their remarkable comeback inside the last two minutes when replacement fullback Leigh Higgins stepped past the on-rushing Panther defence to go into open space before finding Penani Manumalealii, who had the presence of mind to kick the ball towards the south-west corner, where back-rower Jayden Walker managed to out-sprint the Panthers winger to score.
Brown’s swirling conversion from the sideline found its’ way through the posts to give Newtown the lead for the first time in the game and secured a 18-16 win that looked very unlikely just nine minutes earlier.
The win for Newtown sees them join Penrith level on six competition points as they now look forward to home clash next Saturday against Wyong, while the Panthers need to regroup quickly and end a three-game losing streak when they host a resurgent Wentworthville.
Newtown Jets 18 (F Brown, E Lee, J Walker tries; F Brown 3 goals) def Penrith Panthers 16 (C Harawira-Naera, L Stein, D Nicholls tries; D Nicholls 2 goals)