Preliminary Final - Penrith Panthers v Newcastle Knights
Saturday 15 September 3.15pm
A stunning try in the final minute of play has seen Penrith Panthers pip Newcastle Knights 30-26 in the sides' Preliminary Final clash at Leichhardt Oval.
Thomas Lofts' 69th-minute try saw the lead change for a dramatic fifth time in the match, sending the Panthers to an unassailable front and sealing a Grand Final berth in the process.
Panthers captain Mitchell Kenny opened his side's account when he crashed through defenders from close range to score.
Kenny's effort was the dream start for the Panthers, who then quickly lead by six points as Brendan Hands converted the try from in front of the uprights.
Marlon Ritchie extended Penrith's lead to 10 points – which soon became an even dozen – as Hands again raised the touch judges' flags, this time from wide out.
Down by 12, the Knights needed to rally, and they did so as Justin Worley and Starford Toa ran in two tries in three minutes to cut the deficit to just two.
But again, the Panthers would kick clear, and they did so through NSW Under-18s Player of the Year Shawn Blore, who crossed for a decisive try on the cusp of half-time. Hands remained flawless with the boot, taking Penrith to an 18-10 lead heading into the sheds.
As he did in the first period, the Knights' Toa bumped off would-be tacklers to score, and to again have Newcastle right back in the contest. Kurtis Dark converted, lessening the Penrith lead to just two points.
A big bust from No.9 Tom Starling had Newcastle in space, and when supported by fullback Matt Cooper, the Knights found another try – and conversion – and the lead to go with it.
In a back-and-forth contest, Penrith found the front in the 60th minute when fullback Daine Laurie sliced his way through defenders to score.
Hands slotted the ensuing conversion from next to the posts to give the Panthers a 24-22 lead.
Tex Hoy's acrobatic effort in the 65th minute had looked to have seen the Minor Premiership-winning Knights through to the Grand Final, but still, there was drama in store at Leichhardt.
Earning a penalty with barely a minute to play, Penrith marched down field – Lofts diving over for what proved the decisive try. Hands' conversion mattered little, but the No.7 piloted the ball through the posts to remain flawless with the boot on the afternoon.
Penrith will meet the winner of Sunday's (16 September) Mounties-Cronulla clash in next week's Grand Final (23 September).
PENRITH 30 (M Kenny M Ritchie S Blore D Laurie T Lofts tries B Hands 5 goals) bt. NEWCASTLE 26 (S Toa 2 J Worley M Cooper T Hoy tries K Dark 3 goals)
Preliminary Final - Mounties v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
Sunday 16 September, 3.00pm
The Cronulla Sharks have booked their place in the Jersey Flegg Cup Grand Final with a gutsy 26-22 victory over a fast-finishing Mounties outfit at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday afternoon.
Cronulla looked comfortable with a 26-10 early in the second-half, but the Mounties persistence was rewarded with two tries, one of which coming in the closing stages, to set up an exciting but the Mounties unable to break through the stonewall Sharks defence.
The late inclusion of NSW Under 20's five-eighth Brendan O'Hagan proved invaluable in the opening exchanges when his lethal right-foot step helped open the scoring in the 5th minute.
But their lead would be short-lived, however, with a brilliant left-to-right pass from Jayden Millard helping Isaac Lumelume get on the outside of his counterpart for their maiden try, before hooker Harrison Smith snatched the lead just three minutes later.
Both sides were resilient with their defensive efforts on their goal-line despite some costly handling errors ruining their respective chances, but it would be the Mounties who took advantage of their chance when Hudson Young stormed through off a backline movement to set a 10-all scoreline after 27 minutes.
Although a tug-of-war affair for a majority of the first-half, the Sharks clicked into gear in the latter stages with three tries in quick succession – fullback Luke Polselli the first beneficiary before Braydon Trindall took it upon himself with his nifty footwork helping him over the try-line.
A Jackson Ferris try and ensuing conversion from Trindall gave the Sharks a healthy 26-10 advantage as they dominated the early stages of the second-half, but a second try to Young in the 57th minute gave the Mounties a glimmer of hope in the hopes of a comeback.
But the defiant defence of the Sharks held strong with some desperate cover defence holding out an array of threatening Mounties attacking raids, but they weren't able to stop a brilliant flick pass from Sebastian Kris for Harley Smith-Shields to score with just five minutes remaining.
Andre Niko nailed the sideline conversion to set up an enthralling finish with the Mounties trailing by four, but their efforts weren't enough to salvage a miracle victory.
CRONULLA 26 (I Lumelume H Smith L Polselli B Trindall J Ferris tries B Trindall 3 goals) def MOUNTIES 22 (H Young 2 B O'Hagan H Smith-Shields tries A Niko 3 goals).