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GAMES OF THE YEAR | #5 – FW3 Panthers v Jets

Looking back on the remarkable year that was, counts down the 10 best games from the 2018 Intrust Super Premiership NSW season. At No.5, the Panthers and Jets play out a thrilling Preliminary Final clash that went down to the very last play of the game. 

The script couldn't have been written any better for the Newtown Jets and Penrith Panthers after their respective seasons in 2018 – a Preliminary Final blockbuster at Leichhardt Oval with a place in the Grand Final on the line.

The Jets were looking to build on what was already a largely successful year for the foundation club, but had not been to the decider since their premiership triumph in 2012.

The Panthers, however, were looking to build on their recent success in the Intrust Super Premiership after winning the premiership in 2017, while also claiming the Minor Premiership on the back of an 11-game unbeaten run.

While Penrith held the mental edge over their counterparts after their 28-24 win in Round 20, the task would be made no easier considering the Jets boasted the best attacking record in the competition, although their path to the Grand Final Qualifier started with a loss to the Dragons in Week One of the Finals.

But the game that would follow would see a total of five lead changes occur in one of the most enthralling encounters of 2018 – and fittingly so for two of the competition's best sides. 

The Panthers got off to the perfect start when a determined effort from Liam Martin gave them an early lead, but a try to Bessie Aufaga-Toomaga just 10 minutes later drew the game level at 6-all.

They would restore their lead once more after Liam Coleman supported a Billy Burns break following a series of offloads on fifth tackle, bur their burst of momentum would be short lived after fullback William Kennedy sliced through just three minutes later.

The Jets crossed for a crucial try in the dying stages of the first-half, with Kennedy sending Reubenn Rennie through a yawning gap to set a 16-12 lead at the break.

Briton Nikora scores for the Newtown Jets in the 2018 Preliminary Final.
Briton Nikora scores for the Newtown Jets in the 2018 Preliminary Final. ©NRLPhotos

The tug of war contest continued in the second stanza after Reed Izzard stormed onto a Wayde Egan offload to score right under the posts, before the Jets hit back through Briton Nikora after he crashed over from close range in the 46th minute.

Adam Keighran thought he had given his side the lead after his lethal left foot step saw him slice through the Jets defence, only for the referee to rule he had knocked on in the process of planting the ball down.

The Jets were gifted the reprieve and took advantage at the other end of the field, with Nikora the beneficiary of a deft Kyle Flanagan grubber to give the Jets a 10-point buffer with just under 20 minutes remaining.

Egan was causing plenty of havoc out of dummy-half with his potent running game, and a pin-point grubber into the in-goal saw Keighran pounce on the loose ball to set up a thrilling final 15 minutes as he reduced the deficit to just 4 points. 

The Panthers threw everything they could right up until the full-time siren, and although an attacking set looked threatening when the 80th minute struck, the desperate defence of the Jets would ensure a 28-24 victory and a place in the 2018 decider.