Penrith have made it 16 consecutive victories after they overcame a fast finishing Roosters side to win 29-28 in an absolute thriller at Panthers Stadium tonight.
The win books Ivan Cleary's side into their first Preliminary Final since 2014 following an amazing start to the 2020 NRL finals series. In a see-sawing match the lead changed several times, which saw the Roosters jump out to a 10-0 lead in as many minutes, followed by 5 unanswered Panthers tries, 2 more Roosters tries and a Nathan Cleary field goal in a pulsating match. Then just as the game seemed all over, the defending premiers found an answer with Angus Crichton crashing over late to give the Panthers a scare.
The Roosters loss was further compounded with firebrand front rower Jared Warea-Hargraves facing a nervous wait after being placed on report for a high tackle on Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards in a tackle that is sure to come under scrutiny by the Match Review Committee.
It was billed as the battle of East vs West, with the Roosters proven finals experience in comparison to their Western counterparts counting for plenty early, as the Roosters exploded out of the blocks to score two quick tries in the first ten minutes.
The first was off the back off some ill discipline when Panthers custodian Dylan Edwards was penalised for dragging Josh Morris back in-goal off a kick collected on his own line. The defending premiers then marched up field and made the Panthers pay for the costly penalty. Luke Keary hit the play button, when he spotted the Panthers defensive line was lacking down the short side, and veteran centre Josh Morris crashed over to score the first try of the night.
The Roosters had their tails up and again the Panthers were penalised when Villiame Kikau was singled out for a lifting tackle. The Roosters exploded downfield which saw rookie hooker Freddy Lussick crash over from dummy half to score his first NRL try and it was 10-0 following the missed conversion from Kyle Flanagan.
The Panthers were shell shocked and desperately needed a spark. As per recent performances in 2020, it was five-eighth Jarome Luai who found a struck match, when he managed to produce some early ball to Viliame Kikau who attracted three defenders. Kikau then delivered a deft pass for winger Josh Mansour who dived over in the corner to score the Panthers first try.
Suddenly the swagger was back for the men in black and they struck again minutes later, when second rower Liam Martin produced a sloppy offload. The pass was however scooped up by Edwards who then found Nathan Cleary with a short ball close to the line and the NSW halfback crashed over under the posts. Cleary then converted to level the scores.
The Panthers as per their last 15 matches had suddenly found the momentum, when Luai collected the ball on the last and grubbered towards the posts. Like a magnet, Cleary then stuck to the ball to slide over for the home side and they hit the lead after trailing 10 nil after 10 minutes earlier in the half.
The Roosters were starting to have flashbacks to their capitulation from last week, when yet again they gave Luai some space and he again capitalised, when the livewire number 6 was allowed to skip across field and show the ball back inside to young gun Stephen Crichton, who broke the line and then found Cleary in support to score a first half hat-trick. Cleary then converted and the Panthers led 22-10 at halftime after scoring four unanswered tries.
After the break, the party continued for the home fans, when hat-trick hero Cleary then kicked for Luai who managed to successfully bat the ball back for Tyrone May who then found Crichton who went over to score. Cleary converted and the Panthers were dreaming of the week off.
James Tedesco then dragged his side back into the game, when the Australian fullback took the ball to the line to score a trademark try close to the line. The defending premiers then smelt a chance and that intensified when Luke Keary put the ball up in the air on the last. Brian To'o then knocked the ball back in-goal, which saw Josh Morris race through to ground the ball and get the Roosters back in the game.
With the clock winding down, the Panthers took their chance to ice the game, when Cleary snapped what seemed the match winning field goal with minutes remaining to put his side in front by 7 points.
The defending premiers then managed to raise from the dead, following an error from Panthers centre Brent Naden who collected the ball in front of the 10 metre line following a short kickoff from the Roosters which opened the door for the defending premiers. They made it count when they confidently marched up field and NSW backrower Angus Crichton crashes over with just minutes remaining on the clock. Despite the late scare, the Panthers held on to secure a one point victory to give them the valuable week off next week, while the Roosters now await the winner of the Raiders vs Sharks match tomorrow afternoon.