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The Penrith Panthers have completed a stunning 28-20 victory over the New Zealand Warriors at Telstra Stadium today, lining themselves up against the Sydney Roosters in a week?s time for the 2003 NRL Grand Final.
It will be the Panthers first Grand Final appearance in 12 years, since defeating Canberra back in 1991. And for the Warriors it spells a disappointing end to the season, with most tipping them to victory today and getting a shot at avenging last year?s loss to the Roosters.
But it was certainly Penrith?s day, with the Mountain Men getting off to a good start with tries to Lewis and Wesser before the Warriors hit back through Swann in the 23rd minute and Villasanti late in the first half.
A large part of the reason why Penrith dominated the early exchanges belonged to centre Ryan Girdler, who really stepped up to the occasion and lead the way for an inexperienced Panthers outfit who weren?t short on enthusiasm or skill. Girds made several breaks and had a big impact on proceedings.
The second half saw Penrith kick away again with tries to Priddis and Girdler early on, before the Warriors made somewhat of a spirited revival. The try of the match was scored by Clinton Toopi who was on the end of a rampaging mid-field break by Motu Tony and Stacey Jones before the ball was spread wide for the in-form centre to beat the defence and crash over.
There was a hint of complacency from the New Zealanders, with many opportunities going pear-shaped, in particular bombed tries to Vinnie Anderson and Francis Meli. And once the situation became dire, the Warriors cracked under the pressure as their catch-up football went astray and the Panthers muscled up in defence.
A great game overall though, with the Panthers set to meet reigning premiers and hot favourites the Sydney Roosters next week in what should be a great clash in many ways.
Sunday 28 Sep 2003 3:30 PM Telstra Stadium Referee: Tim Mander Video Referee: Mick Stone Scorers: PANTHERS Tries: Lewis, Wesser, Priddis, Girdler, Galuvao Goals: Girdler 4/5 WARRIORS Tries: Swann, Villasanti, Toopi, Webb Goals: Webb 2/4
Leagueunlimited.com Player of the Year Awards
3 ? R Girdler (Panthers) 2 ? C Gower (Panthers) 1 ? B Webb (Warriors)
By the clock:
Panthers kick-off and get the match underway.
5 min: Opening exchanges of the game pretty fierce. Both teams throwing it about, but neither side has broken the line yet.
11 min: TRY - Panthers. Penrith put together a good backline move spreading the ball wide and giving Luke Lewis a bit of room to play with and he scores a fine try in the corner. Panthers 4 Warriors 0.
13 min: Girdler misses the conversion from the sideline and the scores remain Panthers 4 Warriors 0.
20 min: Try goes begging for the Warriors with Vinnie Anderson dropping the ball over the line.
23 min: TRY - Warriors. Logan Swann marches over after some typical Warriors footy - throwing the ball around and running it any which way. Unstoppable stuff and very hard to defend against. Scores now locked at 4-all.
24 min: Webb misses the conversion and the scores remain 4-all with about 15 minutes of play left in the first half.
31 min: TRY - Panthers. Rhys Wesser barges over next to the posts from a good offload. Panthers 8 Warriors 4.
32 min: Girdler converts and easy one and extends the lead to 10-4 in favour of the Mountain Men.
36 min: TRY - Warriors. Villasanti charges through and plants the ball over the line. Video referee adjudicates and gives the green light. Warriors back in the contest and the scores are now 10-8 in favour of the Panthers.
38 min: Webb converts to tie things up at 10-all just before half time.
Scores locked at 10-all with the Warriors storming back into this one latish in the second half. Penrith have had a lot of good possession and used it well, whilst New Zealand are throwing it about again and really causing havoc all over the park.
41 min: The Warriors restart the second half.
44 min: TRY - Panthers. Luke Priddis goes from dummy half and pushes the Panthers out by another 4 points. Nervous start to the second half by both teams as the Panthers pick up the pieces and now lead 14-10.
45 min: Girdler bags another one. Panthers 16 Warriors 10.
52 min: TRY - Panthers. Cross-field kick from Gower grabbed mid-air by Rooney who throws a pass back inside at Girdler's feet, who grubbers through and scores - amazing stuff. Panthers 20 Warriors 10.
53 min: Girdler converts and Penrith take a handy 22-10 lead.
56 min: TRY - Warriors. Spectacular stuff. Toopi scores 15 in from touch after some great lead up work by Tony and Jones up the middle of the field. Fight breaks out shortly after between Toopi and Priddis. Panthers 22 Warriors 14.
58 min: Webb misses the conversion and the scoreline remains 22-14 in favour of Penrith.
62 min: TRY - Panthers. Game really starting to open up and Galuvao powers over to push the Panthers further ahead and now lead 26-14.
63 min: Girdler converts and the lead is now 28-14 to Penrith.
66 min: TRY - Warriors. Francis Meli makes a bust on the left hand side and gives it inside to a flying Webb who scores under the posts. Panthers 28 Warriors 18.
67 min: Webb cracks this one over in record time and cuts the lead to 8. Penrith ahead 28-20.
Harrowing final ten minutes for the Panthers, but they've booked themselves their first Grand Final appearance in more than a decade against the Roosters next week.