Two tries to centre Stephen Crichton and a clutch field goal by Nathan Cleary inspired the Penrith Panthers to a 19-12 triumph over a gallant Wests Tigers in a fiery clash on Saturday night at Bankwest Stadium.
The game was in the balance before Cleary’s field goal broke a 12-12 deadlock with eight minutes remaining.
Hooker Api Koroisau broke the line on the ensuing set of six and sent fullback Dylan Edwards away for the try of the game. Cleary’s conversion gave the Panthers valuable breathing space and their defence held firm over the closing minutes.
Joey Leilua, whose temper appeared to boil over after his brother Luciano was assisted from the field following a high tackle, was sent to the sin bin in the final three minutes for an off-the-ball high shot on Edwards.
Dean Whare was a late withdrawal for the Panthers, opening the door for Brent Naden to return to the starting lineup.
The Panthers couldn’t have asked for a better start, with Crichton crossing for a try after 90 seconds. Cleary converted for a 6-0 lead.
They almost increased the margin 10 minutes later but a knock-on was spotted in the lead-up, ruling out a potential try to Viliame Kikau.
The Tigers had a couple of fleeting chances to get on the board, only to be cut down by desperate defence with the try-line begging.
They were finally rewarded in the 29th minute when lock Matt Eisenhuth slipped through a rare crack in Penrith’s goal-line defensive wall for a try under the posts. Adam Doueihi locked it up at 6-6 with the simple conversion.
An error by Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards created a perfect attacking opportunity for the Tigers 10 metres out from Penrith’s line. They quickly capitalised with a try to Tommy Talau in the corner for a 10-6 lead and that’s how it stayed at the break.
Crichton started the second half like the first, winning the race to a kick and getting a freakish bounce for his second try. Cleary’s conversion put the Panthers up 12-10 with 35 minutes to play.
The Tigers levelled up at 12-12 midway through the second half after a penalty against Penrith’s Api Koroisau for a high shot on Luciano Leilua, who was assisted from the field.
Crichton almost had his first career hat-trick in the 66th minute but the try was over-ruled by the bunker after Kikau made contact with a Tigers defender.
Cleary stepped up in crunch time and the Edwards try ultimately sealed the deal.