Penrith Panthers were made to work hard for their 18-12 success against New Zealand Warriors tonight at Central Coast Stadium.
The final score will show a six-point win for the Panthers, but the competition leaders were pushed by the Warriors despite being 16-nil up early in the contest. The second half score to Dylan Edwards was enough to make it a club record nine straight victories on the trot.
Panthers go back to the top of the ladder, continue to put away teams to get closer to finals football. It was another banner evening with the boot from Cleary who kicked the Warriors out of the game in the first half.
In the first half, it looked like it would be a one-sided contest. The Panthers monopolised the ball through Nathan Cleary, the in-form half forced half a dozen goal-line dropouts and threw the floating pass which sent Brent Naden across for 4-nil.
Next, Apisai Koroisau burrowed underneath the defense for 10-nil as the Panthers camped in the Warriors half. They didn't make their first mistake until after the half hour mark but then responded by adding a third four-pointer through Dylan Edwards, coming from a Josh Mansour kick for 16-nil.
Heart has been the big indicator in the Warriors play the last month which has seen them win back-to-back games for the first time. New Zealand clawed one back just before the break when Roger Tuivasa-Sheck flew high for a Kodi Nikorima kick.
As the rain continues to tumble on the Central Coast, the game turned into an arm wrestle between the sides. The only points came from some quick hands that put Patrick Herbert across to reduce the deficit to six.
Panthers often looked for the four pointer to put the game to bed. Once again, Cleary almost kicked the Warriors out of the contest but the "home" side kept turning up and kept the Premiership favourites to a single penalty goal in the second half.
Villiame Kikau thought he had put the contest to bed after he rushed onto a short Cleary pass but it was called back obstruction. The Panthers weren't at their stylish best but returned to the competition summit with their ninth straight win.