Penrith have put aside the recent spate of player departures to consolidate third spot on the Intrust Super Premiership NAW ladder, after overcoming North Sydney 17-10 in a tough grinding affair at North Sydney Oval.
The win was achieved despite losing Viliame Kikau to the sin-bin - not once, but twice in the opening half - in an at times fiery contest between the competition's two best defensive teams.
Once again Darren Nicholls was instrumental in his side’s win, as he put Penrith back in front late in the game with a calmly-taken field goal against his former team, before putting the game beyond doubt setting up Liam Martin for his maiden try at this level.
Conversely in a losing team, fullback Eli Levido was equally outstanding, scoring a double and defusj g everything Penrith threw at him.
Penrith’s resolute defence was put to test early in the game conceding several penalties culminating with Kikau being put in the sin-bin for ten minutes for back-chatting to referee Kasey Badger in the ninth minute of play.
However the Bears bombed a golden opportunity to score first points when a shift left looked likely to result in a try only for centre Murphy to lose possession as he crossed the line.
The Bears also found themselves in similar trouble with Badger when they too were reduced to 12 men when Cheyne Whitelaw was sent to the sin-bin, which Penrith took full advantage of, to open the scoring through Wayde Egan with a quick dart from dummy half, to lead 6-0 after 16 minutes.
Despite trailing, Norths enjoyed the better of possession and territory ad it was no surprise to see them level on the scores when Luke Kelly’s cross-field kick took a wicked bounce, eluding fullback Jarome Luai and into the hands of his opposite number to score after 24 minutes.
The game took another twist when Viliame Kikau was controversially sent to the sin-bin for a second time in the opening half, this time when in possession short of the try line.
Despite being a man down, the visitors were able to hang on to go into the sheds level at 6-6.
It was a different story after the break as the Bears took quick advantage of their one-man superiority to take a 10-6 lead, when Levido sliced past the Penrith outside backs to score out wide.
The game ebbed and flowed but it was Penrith who would score next and level the scores through prolific try scorer Maiko Sivo, who cleaned up a loose Bears pass and powered his way 30 metres to crash over out wide.
The visitors had the opportunity to regain the lead inside the final ten minutes, when an enterprising last tackle play saw Nicholls go to the line and offload only for the ball to evade Sivo and go into touch.
But Penrith would not be denied the lead in their next set of six when Nicholls calmly nailed a field goal from 25 metres out, directly in front and it was fitting that it would be the Panthers half that would seal a valuable two points, coming up with the clutch play on the last tackle, breaking the line before passing back inside to back-rower Liam Martin to give Penrith their third successive win.
Next up for North Sydney is a difficult road trip next Saturday to the Central Coast, when they take on league-leaders while also on the same day, the second instalment of the Great Western derby takes place at Pepper Stadium when Penrith hosts Blacktown.