A double to fullback Zach Santo helped Mounties to a 26-24 victory over the Penrith Panthers in the opening round of the Intrust Super Premiership at GIO Stadium.
A brilliant defensive performance helped Mounties complete a thrilling come-from-behind victory as they repelled wave after wave of attack late in each half.
Last season’s minor premiers, Mounties found themselves behind on the scoreboard after ten minutes in sweltering conditions, before striking back through Santo just minutes later to level it up at 4-all.
Penrith then shot out to a ten-point lead with two tries in three minutes, but a strong run down the sideline from Brenko Lee saw the exciting prospect cross for the side’s second try of the afternoon.
Riding a wave of momentum after a dominant period in defence, Mounties forced their way towards the try-line before Santo dived over in the corner for his second four-pointer, with Harry Siejka nailing the conversion from the sideline to tie things up at 14-all heading into the break.
Penrith wasted little time in reclaiming the advantage when the sides returned to the field, with five-eighth Te Maire Martin pushing off a number of would-be tacklers to score his side’s fourth try in the 45th minute.
New recruit Joseph Tapine proved to be a wrecking ball in attack, laying the platform for a number of repeat sets at the Penrith line, before a moment of brilliance from Siejka saw him go within a fingernail of scoring a try from his own kick fifteen minutes into the second half.
Minutes later, exciting Papua New Guinean import Kato Ottio crossed for his first try in Mounties colours, before Maurice Kennedy’s conversion bounced off the upright and through the sticks, giving Mounties a slender 20-18 lead with twenty minutes remaining.
Tapine then joined Ottio with a try on his Mounties debut, going over virtually untouched to cap off a strong performance. Maurice Kennedy made no mistakes with the conversion, adding the extras to push the hosts out to a 26-18 lead with thirteen minutes left on the clock.
A try in the 76th minute to Panthers backrower Chris Smith brought his side to within touching distance, before the successful Penrith conversion cut the margin to two points.
Penrith peppered the Mounties line in the dying stages but failed to find a way through, as the hosts closed out a come-from-behind victory.
Mounties will look to make it two-from-two when they return to GIO Stadium in Round 2 for a clash with the Wyong Roos.