The Vodafone Junior Warriors had the lead twice but ultimately lost 28-36 in a tight contest with competition leader Penrith in Saturday’s 23rd-round NYC clash at Pepper Stadium.

After being level 4-4 early on, the Vodafone Junior Warriors worked their way to a 16-6 lead with tries to centre Junior Pauga and second rower Matiu Love-Henry only to allow the home side to score twice to go to halftime on level terms at 16-16.

In the opening moments of the second half the Vodafone Junior Warriors were back in front in spectacular fashion.

It started with prop Paul Tuli bringing the kick-off back towards the 20. Next up second rower Ofahiki Ogden carried strongly to just outside the 20 before interchange front rower Amoni Tufui made another 10 metres on the third tackle. On the fourth hooker Erin Clark skipped out to the left linking with second rower Matiu Love-Henry; he shifted it out the back to halfback Kauri Aupouri who kept Penrith’s right edge guessing before feeding centre Semisi Tyrell just short of halfway. Tyrell shook off two defenders and then produced a classic in and away to surge away from Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards for a sensational try, taking the Vodafone Junior Warriors out to a 22-16 lead.

They couldn’t build on it with the Panthers coming back with three tries in the space of 10 minutes to leap to a 32-22 lead after 61 minutes.

The Vodafone Junior Warriors checked the momentum shift and then produced points of their own when Clark crossed from dummy half, Mikaere Beattie converted and there was just four points in it at 28-32.

With 16 minutes to play, the Vodafone Junior Warriors were in with a big chance of upsetting the competition’s form team but Penrith went eight points clear with eight minutes to play and held on.

Match details | Pepper Stadium, Penrith

Penrith Panthers 36 (Christian Crichton, Jake Ennis, Jarome Luai, Corey Waddell, Reed Izzard, Dylan Edwards, Brent Naden tries; Nathan Cleary 4 conversions).

Vodafone Junior Warriors 28 (Paul Ulberg, Junior Pauga, Matiu Love-Henry, Semisi Tyrell, Erin Clark tries; Mikaere Beattie 4 conversions).

Halftime: 16-16.

Referee: Peter Gough.

Vodafone Junior Warriors: Brad Abbey; Levi McBirney, Junior Pauga, Semisi Tyrell, Paul Ulberg; Mikaere Beattie, Kauri Aupouri; Bunty Afoa, Erin Clark, Paul Tuli; Ofahiki Ogden, Matiu Love-Henry; Jazz Tevaga (c). Interchange: Tyler Mohi, Amoni Tufui, James Mafi, Casey Lafaele.