The Penrith Panthers have edged out the Canberra Raiders 19-18, in a thrilling contest at Carrington Park in Bathurst.
Blake Austin was the big change to the Raiders side, coming back into the team for Sam Williams after missing the previous two rounds with a hamstring injury. The Panthers also made a raft of changes.
Both teams started the match with attacking intent. The Raiders went close after only a few minutes, with Hodgson just getting caught two metres from the line. The Panthers marched up the field on the next set, with several offloads catching the Raiders flat footed.
The match was living up to its high expectations, as Paul Vaughan made a break up the middle before offloading to Aidan Sezer. On the next play Austin went for a kick and missed it. The ball bounced up favourably for the Panthers and Bryce Cartwright went 80 metres to score. Soward converted to set the Panthers up with an early 6-0 lead.
An untimely error by Edrick Lee provided the Panthers with another great attacking opportunity. Repeated sets at the Raiders line came to nothing as a forward pass by Peter Wallace let the Raiders off the hook.
A penalty to the Raiders gave them a chance to hit back at the Panthers. The Raiders couldn’t find a way through the Panthers defence, with Josh Hodgson’s kick deflected and recovered on the last tackle.
On the next set of six the Raiders spread the ball to the favoured right edge. A magic offload by Joey Leilua sent Jordan Rapana away as he continued his scintillating form from last weekend. Croker nailed the tough conversion from the sideline to take him to only 7 points away from the Raiders all-time point scoring record.
Wighton almost went close moments later, stripped of the ball as he was falling onto the try line. The Panthers escaped.
Penalties continued to swing the momentum of the game. A series of penalties gave the Panthers repeated sets at the Raiders line. Tyrone Peachey eventually found a hole on the Raiders right edge, beating several defenders to give the Panthers a four point lead after Soward missed the conversion.
Josh Hodgson took charge of the Raiders and lead them back down the field soon after. Two repeated line drop outs by the Panthers saw the pressure continue to mount on them. On the third repeated set Josh Papalii was held up one metre from the line on the last tackle. The pressure was off for the Panthers, and they found it easy going gaining metres back up the ground.
A Jack Wighton error from the Panthers kick on the next set looked set to give more points to the men in black. However Wighton went from zero to hero in mere moments, with a try saving tackle that prevented a certain try.
It wasn’t long before the Panthers were threatening the Raiders again. A penalty to the Panthers straight in front saw them opt to go for the two points. Soward knocked over the final points for the half, extending the Panthers lead to 12-6 as both teams heading into the sheds for the break.
The second-half began with both teams trading sets and continuing the arm wrestle that had summed up the match. Errors and penalties continued to cost both teams more points.
In stark contrast to last week, the Raiders were struggling to get points on the board. Vaughan was held up in-goal after a quick pass by Hodgson close to the line. A Panthers error on their next set was matched by Boyd knocking the ball on only moments later.
The error proved very costly as the Panthers moved up the field at a rapid pace. A clever kick by Moylan close to the line was grounded by Peter Hiku to extend the Panthers lead. Soward converted the try for a 18-6 lead.
The Raiders enjoyed a ten minute period of sustained pressure on the Panthers line. Papalii was held up in a split decision that looked for all money to be a try. Soon after the Bunker was called into action again after a miraculous pass by Croker was ruled to have been knocked on by Edrick Lee. The Raiders couldn’t buy a trick.
With time starting to run out, Leilua took it upon himself to finally crack the Panthers defence. A wonderful run turned the Panthers inside out and delivered the Raiders 5 metres out from the line. Baptise, on for Hodgson, fired away a short pass to Paul Vaughan who was able to smash his way across the line. Croker converted the try and the Raiders were back in the game.
With momentum fully swung the Raiders way, it didn’t take long before they found themselves attacking the Panthers line again. A perfectly weighted cross field kick was caught by Jordan Rapana who just managed to hold onto the ball for a try. Croker converted to lock up the scores with only minutes remaining.
Off the Panthers kick-off the Raiders powered their way into field goal position. Sezer missed the kick just to the left and the Panthers were let off the hook. The Panthers did exactly the same down the other end of the field, with Soward shooting off to the right.
Aiming for one last shot at victory, the Raiders came unstuck when Priest lost control of the ball near halfway. The Panthers were perfectly set up for another field goal attempt, and Peter Wallace struck truly from 30 metres out.
The bunker was called into action for what looked like an obvious obstruction of Paul Vaughan as he attempted to block the field goal. The field goal wasn’t overturned and the Panthers had a one point lead.
Regathering the resulting kick-off, the Raiders had one last throw of the dice to send the game into golden point. With seconds remaining, Sezer lined up another field goal option, however his kick was blocked and the Panthers held on for a gritty one point win.
With Representative weekend coming up, the Raiders will next take to the field against the Dragons on May 12.
Penrith 19 (Cartwright, Peachey, Hiku, Soward 2/3, Wallace 1 FG ) defeated Raiders 18 ( Rapana 2, Vaughan Croker 3/3)