The Penrith Panthers have held on to win 31-30 in a stunner against the St George-Illawara Dragons at Penrith Football Stadium.
It was a quick start out of the blocks for the Panthers with Waterhouse charging across the line off a Gower pass just minutes into the match.
Moments later the towering backrower was back at it again scoring in a similar position and similar style and when he set up Campbell for the Panthers third try in just the 14th minute many would?ve been wondering what all the fuss was over the Galuvao and Puletua injuries.
It didn?t get much better for the Dragons when Priddis shrugged off two defenders to score next to the posts and extend the Panthers lead to 24-0 with barely a quarter of the match completed.
It took until the 34th minute for the Dragons to finally shake off the cobwebs from last week's bye when Blacklock went in under the posts to score his 100th try for the joint venture.
Hornby followed up with a try of his own and a potential thumping had turned into a genuine contest in the space of ten minutes as the Dragons had clawed their way back to 24-12 at halftime.
Preston Campbell started the second half for the Panthers much the same way they started the first as he took an intercept and ran 90 metres to score out pacing Matt Cooper in the process.
From there the Dragons put on two tries, the first through Timmins and the second through Thompson off an amazing flick pass from Jason Ryles to bring them to within six points.
It was left to Craig Gower to finally put the last nail in the coffin when he kicked a 35 metre field goal. A tonne of possession and a last minute try to Dean Young wasn?t enough for the Dragons as they went down by that one point off the boot of Gower.
Ultimately it was Rugby League at its absolute best and a great way to kick off what could potentially be one of the tightest finals series in the competition?s history.
McIntyre System Rundown: -Penrith can?t be eliminated this week of the Finals and need two of the Roosters, Bulldogs or Broncos to lose their Semi-Finals to go straight through to a Grand Final Qualifier. -St George-Illawara face elimination if two of the Storm, Cowboys or Raiders win their Semi-Finals, otherwise they will go through to next week of the Finals.
Penrith Football Stadium, Crowd: 21,963 Referee: Sean Hampstead
Scorers: PANTHERS 31 Tries: Waterhouse 2, Campbell 2, Priddis Goals: Girdler 5/5, Gower F/G defeated DRAGONS 30 Tries: Blacklock, Hornby, Timmins, Thompson, Young Goals: Head 5/5
By the clock: Pre-match: Finals fever for 2004 has officially arrived with the Dragons stepping into enemy territory in front of a packed Penrith Football Stadium.
0 min: Sean Hampstead blows his whistle and we have kick-off in the first semi-final of the weekend!
3rd min: TRY - Panthers Shaun Timmins came racing out of the line and allowed Rooney to run to the 10 metre line. With a quick play the ball Waterhouse stormed towards the line and planted the ball down. Girdler converts. Panthers 6-0
6th min: NEWS - Penrith are on a roll with two penalties putting them hot on attack on the Dragons line.
7th min: TRY - Panthers It's been a horror start for the Dragons. On the back of a penalty Waterhouse ran between two defenders and crashed over the line. Girdler converts. Panthers 12-0
11th min: NEWS - It's been an amazing start from the Panthers with the Dragons barely seeing the ball so far in this match. It looks as though having the bye last round is working against the Dragons.
14th min: TRY - Panthers It gets worse for the Dragons with Waterhouse again terrorising them by making a big break up the middle and offloading to put Campbell away. Girdler converts. Panthers 18-0
18th min: TRY - Panthers A kick out on the full from Gower was touched by a Dragons player giving the Panthers the ball back. From the following set Luke Priddis ran to the line and went through two defenders to score. Girdler converts. Panthers 24-0
21st min: NEWS - The Dragons are really chancing their arm trying to score points rather than trying to settle things down and compose themselves. You get the feeling more points are on the way soon from one of these sides.
25th min: NEWS - It could be just one of those nights for the Dragons. They were awarded their first penalty of the match giving them their best field possession of the night but coughed up the ball.
28th min: NEWS - St George-Illawara seem to think their best opportunity of penetrating this Penrith defence is with short kicks in behind the line with several unsuccessful attempts so far.
30th min: NEWS - Pure frustration for the Dragons coming so close to breaking the Penrith line before throwing the ball over the sideline.
34th min: TRY - Dragons The Dragons finally get on the board busting through the line and the try scoring machine Nathan Blacklock diving under the posts without a defender in sight. Matthew Head converts. Panthers 24-6
35th min: NEWS - That try from Nathan Blacklock was his 100th for the St George-Illawara club putting him amongst some of the great names to don the Red V.
38th min: TRY - Dragons Buckle up folks as we have a contest on our hands. Bailey of all players went through a gap and put Hornby under the posts on the inside. Head converts. Panthers 24-12
40th min: HALF TIME It was an amazing start from the Panthers finding holes everywhere in the Dragons line and racking up four unanswered tries. The Dragons however continued to attack and have given use a proper contest with two quick tries before the break. Half Time Score - Panthers 24 Dragons 12
41st min: We're 40 minutes away from one team safe for another week and a very nervous couple of days for the other as the second half gets underway!
43rd min: NEWS - Joel Clinton drops the ball cold in his own half and gives the Dragons a great early opportunity to cut the Panthers lead even further.
45th min: TRY - Panthers Preston Campbell 10 metres out from his own line intercepted a cut out ball from Trent Barrett and had enough pace to see off Matt Cooper and score. Girdler converts. Panthers 30-12
50th min: NEWS - Both sides are getting a tad sloppy as neither is prepared to pull in the reins and play a more traditional style of finals football.
54th min: TRY - Dragons A great over the top pass from Matthew Head gave Shaun Timmins an easy path to the line to keep the Dragons in the match. Head converts. Panthers 30-18
56th min: NEWS - The Dragons have really lifted their intensity on the back of that try knowing they have to follow it up with another if they are to be a genuine chance of winning.
60th min: NEWS - The Dragons get a line drop out and a great attacking chance and we go into the final quarter of this match.
62nd min: NEWS - The Panthers have just come up with a crucial set of defence withstanding all that the Dragons had to throw at them.
65th min: NEWS - Strips, penalties and mistakes have given the Dragons an amazing wave of possession in the last five or so minutes but it's coming to the crunch time where they have to turn it into points.
67th min: Try - Dragons Pure determination gets the Dragons across the line. Ryles ran to the line and fought off three defenders before throwing one of the best offloads you'll ever see to send Thompson over to score. Matthew Head converts and it's game on. Panthers 30 Dragons 24
69th min: NEWS - The Dragons pull off a huge play with a huge kick into the in-goal and four chasers were on hand to trap Rooney and force a line drop out.
70th min: NEWS - Ben Creagh loses the ball on attack and the whole of Penrith breathes a big sigh of relief.
72nd min: NEWS - The Panthers have passed up their first opportunity for a field goal with Gower preferring to grubber into the in-goal on the fourth tackle.
76th min: FIELD GOAL - Panthers On the last tackle about 35 metres out from the posts Craig Gower took a shot and hit it sweetly to give the Panthers an almost unbeatable lead. Panthers 31-24
78th min: TRY - Dragons Matthew Head ran to the line and put a ball over the top to send Dean Young over. Matthew Head converts very quickly. Panthers 31-30
80th min: NEWS - A penalty against the Dragons with seconds to go will give Penrith victory by the narrowest of margins.
80th min: FULL TIME One of the most exciting finals matches you will ever witness. The Dragons clawed their way back in this second half but were never quite close enough and ultimately Craig Gower's field goal sealed victory for Penrith. Full Time Score - Panthers 31 Dragons 30
----------------------------------------- Leagueunlimited.com players of the match: 3 - T Waterhouse (Panthers) 2 - M Lang (Panthers) 1 - M Head (Dragons) -----------------------------------------