Penrith stayed in the second half arm wrestle before breaking the deadlock with two converted tries to eke out a 22-10 victory over the Vodafone Warriors in a tough 24th-round New South Wales Cup contest at Mount Smart Stadium No 2 on Saturday.
The two teams went into the clash equal at the head of the table on 32 points alongside Wyong and the Mounties but with the top two spots for the finals still at stake.
The nature of the combat reflected their relative positions on the ladder as they scored two tries each in the first half to go to the break locked at 10-10.
The Vodafone Warriors bookended the first stanza with a double to hooker Siliva Havili while the Panthers were in points-scoring business in the middle stages with an intercept try to centre Waqa Blake followed by a shift left for wing Malakai Watene-Zelezniak to score wide out.
There was nothing in it at that stage and the tone was the same in the opening quarter of the second half.
For much of that period the Vodafone Warriors enjoyed good field position but couldn’t quite make their plays stick to generate points as a resilient Penrith resisted impressively.
When the Panthers finally had opportunities at the other end they didn’t pass up the invitation.
Their first strike came in the 58th minute when halfback Sam Scarlett exploded on an angled run through the Vodafone Warriors’ line to break the shackles, impressive 20-year-old Northlander Corey Harawira-Naera converting to push Penrith out to a 16-10 lead.
The Vodafone Warriors were staying right in it, though, coming at Penrith with plenty of intensity despite being shorn of many frontline players. With halfback Mason Lino called up for his NRL debut, coach Stacey Jones used Northcote’s Levi Norton in the halves in a reshuffled line-up which featured numerous players straight out of Auckland’s Fox Memorial club competition.
Three of them were on the bench – Sione Fe’ao (Otahuhu), Uila Aiolupo (Otara) and Ray Talimalie (Mangere East) – along with Vodafone Junior Warriors prop Bunty Afoa. Making his NSW Cup debut, Afoa was impressive in his stint on a day which would also see him line up for the club’s NYC side.
In the end, though, the Panthers were equal to the pressure exerted by the Vodafone Warriors, not only repelling the home side’s advances but producing the killer play in the 70th minute. They went left, Harawira-Naera running a fantastic line onto a short ball for what was the match-sealing try. He also converted it to have his side 12 points ahead with 10 minutes to play and the Panthers were in no mood to let their opponents back into it.
Match details | Mount Smart Stadium No 2, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 10 (Siliva Havili 2 tries; Ata Hingano conversion).
Penrith Panthers 22 (Waqa Blake, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, Sam Scarlett, Corey Harawira-Naera tries; Corey Harawira-Naera 3 conversions).
Referee: Aaron Donald.
Vodafone Warriors: Viliami Kaveinga; Willie Peace, Marata Niukore, James Bell, Tomas Aoake; Ata Hingano, Levi Norton; Upu Poching, Siliva Havili, Sebastine Ikahihifo; John Palavi (c), Sione Lousi; David Bhana. Interchange: Uila Aiolupo, Sione Fe’ao, Bunty Afoa, Ray Talimalie.