Nathan Cleary has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat to nail a 38 metre field goal in Golden Point to give the Panthers an unlikely 9-8 victory over an unlucky Tigers side at Panthers Stadium tonight.
After all the talk being around his father Ivan all week, it was remarkable to see Cleary junior steal the headlines after the Panthers looked dead and buried for the majority of the evening. After an error riddled performance from the home side, the incumbent NSW halves combination in Cleary and James Maloney combined at the death to put Dylan Edwards over in the corner to trail by two points as the fulltime siren sounded. Cleary then calmly slotted the conversion from the sideline to give his side an unlikely shot a victory. From there Cleary nailed a huge field goal under pressure to secure a mighty win for his side.
Make no mistake, the home side were certainly not the better team, after returning Tigers five-eighth Josh Reynolds put on a short kicking master class to set up the only two tries of the game until the last minute of the game.
In shades of the 1989 Grand Final for Tigers fans, Reynolds had a shot at field goal to ice the game for the visitors but the attempt echoed off the posts and rebounded back to the Panthers in what ultimately proved a costly missed opportunity.
Penrith were extremely fortunate to run out winners, however they will take confidence that their late comebacks they became infamous for in 2018, can somehow spark their season. There is no hiding the fact though, that the Tigers were by far the better team on the night.
All the pre-match buildup surrounded the Panthers coach Ivan Cleary jumping off the Tigers bus, with many Tigers players signing long term deals last season, only to see Cleary sign for the Panthers in the NRL's worst kept secret of 2018.
The major reason for the coach leaving, son Nathan got the Panthers on the board after an early arm wrestle in the opening exchanges. Tigers lock Elijah Taylor made two uncharacteristic errors in greasy conditions and then gave away a penalty in frustration right in front of the sticks. Cleary Junior with the first blow however, making it 2-0 after 15 minutes of play.
The return of Josh Reynolds was proving a big problem for the Panthers goal line defence, with the former NSW five eighth's short kicking game building pressure with some superbly timed grubbers forcing two dropouts for the visitors. Reynolds then struck again with his deft kicking game, when former Bulldogs teammate Corey Thompson pounced onto another superbly timed grubber for the Tigers to hit the lead by 4-2 at halftime.
Reynolds then picked up where he left off in the second stanza, when he again placed a beautifully timed grubber behind the line, which bounced up perfectly for his backrower Ryan Matterson to score an easy try. Esan Marsters again missed with the conversion and the Tigers led 8-2 with half an hour remaining.
The game then continued to stay in the middle of the field, and Reynolds then took it upon himself with ten minutes remaining to extend the lead to 7 points but the miss proved costly. Halves partner Luke Brooks then had another opportunity but again it went wide and the Tigers had shown their hand.
The Panthers then struck late, when fullback Edwards who had an unhappy night at the back in the first half, moving to the wing, was on the end of a slick backline move to set up the chance for Golden Point. Cleary then took it upon himself to land the conversion after the siren and then launched an ambitious field goal to give his side what seemed an unlikely victory only minutes before.
With Cleary proving the hero, the Panthers are now 2 wins from 4 matches and travel to the Gold Coast next Friday night, where they face the winless Titans.
The Tigers have now dropped two matches in a row and will be desperate to get their season back on track when they travel to Suncorp Stadium for Thursday Night Football against the Broncos in Round 5.