In a see-sawing affair, a late try to Tyrone May has seen the Panthers secure a dramatic 26-22 win over the Raiders at GIO Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Plenty of points were expected on Sunday afternoon and the Panthers immediately appeared to justify this prediction when Waqa Blake stepped through the Canberra defence to score in just the third minute after a skilful Matt Moylan tip-on. Both sides were energetic and rightfully so seeing that so much was on the line, particularly for the Raiders, who were playing for their season.
Yet, the home side was guilty of some early ill-discipline with Nathan Cleary gifted with the chance to kick Penrith to an 8-0 lead after 11 minutes. However, the Panthers would invite the Raiders back into it after conceding a penalty of their own and a couple of offloads would see boom rookie Nick Cotric cross out wide. It would not take long for Penrith to bounce back, with Blake again starring. This time the speedy centre outpaced Jarrod Croker and sprinted down the sideline before finding halfback Nathan Cleary in support to give the Panthers a 12-4 lead after 24 minutes.
Despite a fantastic 100% completion rate by the thirty-minute mark, Penrith undid all their good work when they conceded a penalty on the last tackle in the 32nd minute. Consequently, the Raiders were given an easy shot at the Penrith line and the home side took full advantage when David Taylor barged through the line and popped an offload for Josh Papalii to score.
The see-sawing nature of the game continued in the 39th minute when Penrith rode a wave of momentum and scored courtesy of a Josh Mansour break. As a result, the Panthers headed into the sheds with a strong 20-10 lead.
Yet, that buffer was quickly reduced in the second half when Jack Wighton sliced through the Penrith defence in the 45th minute. Canberra dominated early possession in the second half and continued to fight their way back into the contest, with Joseph Tapine charging through for a try in the 54th minute, giving the Raiders the lead for the first time in the match.
Despite conceding two early tries, Anthony Griffin would have been proud of how his side repelled multiple attacking raids from the home side in the following ten minutes and they would be rewarded for their commitment. A couple of late errors from the Raiders gave the Penrith side a chance to regain the lead and they did in the 71st minute when the versatile Tyrone May dummied and reached out from dummy-half to score next to the posts.
Panthers fans would have to endure a nervous final two minutes of the game, with the Raiders earning one final shot at the Penrith line courtesy of a James Fisher-Harris high tackle. Yet, in the end, the Panthers would just hold on for a thrilling 26-22 win, perhaps landing the killer blow in Canberra's faint finals hopes.
The Raiders are now only a slim mathematical chance of a Top Eight berth and it will be interesting to see how they respond when they take on the desperate Knights on Friday night at Canberra. Meanwhile, Penrith will push for an unlikely Top Four berth when they meet the Dragons on Sunday afternoon at Pepper Stadium.