Two tries by Wyong Roos centre Matt Ikavalu in the final three minutes propelled the Wyong Roos to a miraculous 24-22 win over the Penrith Panthers in the top-of-the-table Intrust Super Premiership NSW match at Morry Breen Oval this afternoon.
In a clash that more than lived up to the billing of a heavyweight showdown, the Roos were able to defeat the Panthers, despite scoring four tries to Penrith's five. A thrilling last five minutes allowed them to snatch victory from what looked like certain defeat – and in the process take an iron grip on the minor premiership.
After both sides sparred at each other through a scoreless opening 10 minutes, Roos centre Paul Momifovski missed an easy 20-metre penalty goal attempt from in front in the 13th minute.
From the ensuing 20 metre dropout, the Roos ran a short side play down the right-hand blind side late in the tackle count for winger Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck to score the opening try in the corner. Momirovski made no mistake with the touchline conversion to give the Roos a 6-0 lead.
On the back of a questionable penalty given against Ikavulu for an alleged kick in danger seven minutes later, the Panthers worked play forward to execute a left-side shift for winger Christian Crichton to dive over for the visitors’ opening try in the corner. Darren Nicholls missed the touch line conversion to leave Wyong in front 6-4.
Then on the back of a superb 40-20 kick by experienced hooker Mitch Rein in the 27th minute, the Panthers opened up field position for lock Moses Leota to barge over from close range to score under the posts. Nicholls landed what turned out to be his only conversion for the day and Penrith led 10-6.
Four minutes from half-time - after crunching Roos defence forced a Penrith knock-on – another right-side shift from the scrum set saw Tuivasa-Sheck complete his second try in the corner in a carbon copy of his opening score. Momirovski landed his second touchline conversion to give Wyong a 12-10 lead at the break.
With Penrith completing their sets at the start of the second half far better than their moderate 50 per cent completion rate (eight of 16) in the first stanza, the Panthers started to convert their ball control into points 10 minutes into the second half to regain the lead.
Promising centre Jed Cartwrigth made a telling 55-metre burst down the left edge before being grassed in the last line of cover defence by Wyong fullback Luke Sharpe.
On the next play, the Panthers swung the ball back to the right to the flying Dean Whare, who outpaced the stretched defence to score wide out. Nicholls missed the conversion, but Penrith led 14-12.
As Wyong struggled to get out of their own end in the second half, Penrith increased their lead in the 60th minute when brilliant second-phase passing on the last tackle saw the Panthers shift the ball to the right, then come back to the left for Crichton to finish off with a spectacular one-handed put down around the corner post for his second try.
Nicholls hit the upright with his touch line conversion and Penrith led 18-12.
After both sides made their share of errors in the next 10 minutes, Penrith looked to have made the critical break through when Nicholls dummied his way through the Wyong defensive line in the 70th minute, before putting on the afterburners to just beat the Roos cover defence for a great solo try.
Tellingly, he again missed the conversion – the halfback ended up with one goal from five attempts – and Penrith led 22-12 with under 10 minutes left.
Wyong then forced a knock on from the short restart to set up field position for their miracle comeback. Prop Eloni Vunakece lost the ball short when reaching out to score from the scrum set with seven minutes left – however the Roos were not done yet.
On their next attacking set with three minutes to play, a right-side raid down the blind saw Ikavalu burst through a couple of defenders to give the Roos some hope at 22-18 with Momirovski’s conversion.
Then with 80 seconds left on the clock from the restart set, Wyong skipper Mitch Williams took off on a dart down the right side late in the tackle count before feeding Ikavalu the last pass.
From 40 metres out, the Roos centre stepped inside two despairing Panthers defenders before beating Penrith fullback Jerome Luai in last ditch cover score his second game breaking try to level the scores – as well as improving the position near the uprights after crossing the goal line for good measure.
In a tense atmosphere, Momirovski nailed the conversion with under 30 seconds left to give Wyong the lead.
The Roos then regained possession from the short restart for the last tackle of the match to complete their miraculous victory – snapping shut the stunned Panthers’ six-game winning streak.
However, the enthralling contest left most of the crowd that enjoyed the spectacle convinced that the two sides will meet again for bigger stakes in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW Finals Series in September.
For now, the Roos can secure the minor premiership with a win against Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles at Lottoland, Brookvale in their next match next Sunday.
The Panthers will have to wait two weeks to atone for their stunning defeat when they play Newtown at Henson Park on August 12 in Round 23 after having their last bye for the year next weekend.
Wyong Roos 24 (M Ikuvalu 2, J Tuivasa-Sheck 2 tries; P Momirovski 4 goals) def Penrith Panthers 22 (C Crichton 2, D Whare, M Leota, D Nicholls tries; D Nicholls goal)