Penrith conjured up a storming finish scoring 14 points in the closing stages to hand the Vodafone Warriors a heartbreaking 14-20 loss in Sunday’s 16th-round New South Wales Cup clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
The home side had a 14-6 lead with just seven minutes left and seemed poised to knock over the vastly more-experienced competition-leading Panthers.
They’d worked hard to put themselves in position, coming back from a 4-6 deficit at halftime with tries to Raymond Faitala-Mariner and Steve Waetford to earn an eight-point lead.
But the Panthers spoilt the party.
They made inroads in the 73rd minute with a long-range try to big winger Eto Nabuli which Wes Naiqama converted to leave Penrith just two points adrift.
Four minutes later it was 14-14 after a Naiqama penalty.
The Vodafone Warriors went hunting for victory rather than being content with the draw. They found no joy, though.
Instead Penrith raided again with Nabuli and Wes Naiqama combining to put hooker Kevin Kingston in for the match-winner, a gut-wrenching end for the Vodafone Warriors after what had been an enthralling contest.
They started it impressively going to the left through replacement centre Sam Cook and standoff Carlos Tuimavave for winger Jarrod Tua to score.
The Panthers packed plenty of quality into their line-up, though, boasting the likes of Wes and Kevin Naiqama, Luke Capewell, Tom Humble, Tim Grant, Kingston, former Vodafone Warrior Matt Robinson, Ryan Simpkins, Ben Murdoch-Masila and Anthony Cherrington.
Given such resources it was inevitable the visitors would have a say at some stage. They did on the 27-minute mark, Waqa Blake hauling in a Capewell cross-field bomb to score.
Up 6-4 Penrith threw plenty at the Vodafone Warriors in the opening stages of the second half and should have gone further ahead but for an embarrassing error by Blake. He’d crossed the line and ran around along the in-goal looking to score closer to the posts; however, as he was in the process of completing the touchdown he inadvertently put the ball down on his right boot, knocking on and blowing the would-be try.
Heroic Vodafone Warriors defence stopped other opportunities as they soaked up all the pressure and then began to change the momentum.
On a last tackle play in the 53rd minute, halfback Waetford grubbered through Penrith’s left edge, Blake failed to clean it up and Faitala-Mariner collected the loose call to score his fifth try of the season.
A 10-6 lead became 14-6 10 minutes later the Vodafone Warriors attacked the Panthers’ left side again, hooker Siliva Havili skirting out from dummy half and putting Waetford through for a try.
As the game went into the last 10 minutes the Vodafone Warriors were in good position to score an important win only to be undone by the Panthers’ hungry finish.
Despite a second successive tight loss the Vodafone Warriors remain are still sixth on the ladder as they head into a bye this weekend. They’re in tripleheader action at Mount Smart Stadium again on July 12 when they face Wentworthville (5.10pm kick-off).
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 14 (Jarrod Tua, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Steve Waetford tries; Tuimoala Lolohea conversion).
Penrith Panthers 20 (Waqa Blake, Eto Nabuli, Kevin Kingston tries; Wes Naiqama 3 conversions, penalty).
Halftime: 6-4 Panthers.
Referee: Shane Rehm.
Vodafone Warriors: Tuimoala Lolohea; Jarrod Tua, Solomone Kata, Sam Cook, Ngataua Hukatai; Carlos Tuimavave, Steve Waetford (c); Upu Poching, Siliva Havili, Agnatius Paasi; Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Abraham Papalii; David Bhana. Interchange: John Palavi, Michael Sio, Albert Vete, Sam Lousi.