The defending premiers Penrith have defeated a determined Roosters outfit by 26-18 at Bluebet Stadium tonight to place one hand on the NRL Minor Premiership for 2022.
Following Melbourne's loss to Manly last night, Penrith now have a three-game buffer over their second placed rivals, which will be welcomed by the club given their huge representation in State of Origin this season.
The match didn't go all the defending premiers way however, with the Roosters taking a shock lead just after halftime. Despite having 7 Origin representatives and several more backing up from a tough Representative Round last weekend, the Panthers still managed to storm home and secure the win through a decisive try NSW hooker Api Koroisau with just over five minutes remaining.
Despite the loss, the Roosters can hold their heads high, with several contentious decisions not going their way and unfortunately given the form of the defending premiers, opposition teams just about need everything to go right in order to come away with the two points at the foot of the mountains.
Penrith took the early ascendency early in the game, when ill-discipline from the Roosters saw them give away back-to-back penalties. Nathan Cleary took the gift two points on offer to make it 2-0 after just seven minutes.
The defending premiers then struck with the first try of the night, through some silky hands from the Penrith backline off a scrum to allow winger Brian To'o to slide over to score in the corner. Cleary converted from out wide and it was 8-0.
The Tricolours then were put under even more pressure following a break from Panther utility Jaeman Salmon. Backrower Angus Crichton was sent to the Sin Bin for taking out his namesake and NSW teammate, Stephen off the ball who was in support.
The visitors however managed to repel the waves of Penrith attack, before Joey Manu and James Tedesco combined through the middle to find Sam Walker in support, who scored under the posts to reduce the Panthers lead to two points.
The Roosters defence remained resolute while Crichton was off the field, as they continued to scramble in defence to protect the scoreboard until they were back on even terms.
However, in a crushing blow before halftime Roosters hooker Sam Verrills was then penalised for a controversial lifting tackle. Replays suggested he slipped and Panthers forward Scott Sorensen tripped over him accidently. Regardless it was a crucial penalty right before halftime which proved costly, when Viliame Kikau crashed over beside the posts to extend the lead to 14-6 at halftime.
The Roosters then struck first in the second half, after prop Siosiua Taukeiaho steamed onto a lovely flat ball from Egan Butcher close to the line. Walker then converted to narrow the Panthers lead to 14-12 and it was game on.
The Tricolours then took the lead after makeshift five-eighth Joey Manu ran the ball on the last. The Kiwi international then managed to release the ball out the back for his hooker Verrills to pick up the crumbs to score and put his side up by 18-14.
Penrith then hit back through their skipper Nathan Cleary, who delivered a superb clutch play on the last tackle with a delicious ball close to the line which hit an unmarked Izack Tago to score and tie up the score. Cleary converted the try to give his side a 20-18 lead with less than 15 minutes remaining.
The Panthers then iced the game through NSW hooker Apisai Koroisau, who jumped out of dummy half close to the line catching the markers napping to score and seal a vital 26-18 win in front of their home fans.
Both sides now have the bye next week, before the Panthers face the Wests Tigers in Round 18, while the Roosters will need to find a win against an equally desperate Dragons side if they are to make a run towards this year's finals series.