Henare Wells of the Warriors scores a try in the Intrust Super Premiership Rugby League Match, New Zealand Warriors v Penrith Panthers, Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand, Sunday, August 28, 2016. Copyright photo: David Rowland / www.photosport.nz

The Vodafone Warriors will meet the Penrith Panthers again in the first week of the finals after slipping to a 24-36 loss in today’s final Intrust Super Premiership regular season clash at Mount Smart Stadium.

The victory saved Penrith’s season but the performance was a bitter disappointment for the home side as it conceded 24 unanswered points in the second half to allow the Panthers to turn a 12-point deficit into a 12-point win.

The Panthers had gone into the match sitting ninth on the ladder on 24 points needing a win to climb into eighth spot.

They had cause to feel confident when they broke through the Vodafone Warriors’ line twice on each edge for tries to centres Raymond Lesoa and George Jennings, Zach Dockar-Clay converting both for a 12-0 lead after 14 minutes.

If the defensive breaches were cause for concern, there was added anxiety when the Vodafone Warriors lost front rower Ligi Sao with a shoulder injury. It was the second setback after big prop Pat Sipley had been injured in the warm-up.

Having conceded 12 points so quickly, the Vodafone Warriors responded explosively with a run of 24 unanswered points in a 13-minute blitz.

The first time they had the sniff of an opportunity at Penrith’s end they took it, fullback Henare Wells with a 19th-minute try.

Seven minutes later 38-year-old centre George Carmont busted out of defence, putting Viliami Kaveinga away on a long break. 

It was followed soon after by a nice set play with Lino, Shaun Lane and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad in the mix, Lino flicking a short pass to Lane and the rangy second rower deftly tipping the ball back inside for Nicoll-Klokstad to run through a hole on the angle to score. Lino’s conversion had the game tied up at 12-12.

On the 30-minute mark it was Carmont’s turn to profit. The ex-Newcastle and Wigan star was determined to make another comeback this season after having his campaign ended by knee surgery last year.

When standoff Erin Clark floated a low chip just over the Penrith defence, Carmont stole in from the left to collect for a try Lino again converted, putting his side 18-12 in front.

From the restart the Vodafone Warriors were straight back at the Panthers, Lino breaking through with players supporting on the inside and the outside. Instead of going through the hands, Lino punched through a grubber to the right, Nicoll-Klokstad racing onto it to pick up and score. Lino’s conversion from wide out was superb to take the Vodafone Warriors 24-12 ahead after 32 minutes.

They protected that through to halftime but yielded the first points of the second half when second rower Corey Harawira-Naera wasn’t checked by the Vodafone Warriors’ right edge, stealing through to score a try Dockar-Clay again converted.

Now there was just six points in it, the Vodafone Warriors leading 24-18 after 48 minutes.

After a grinding period Penrith was on level terms at 24-24 after 64 minutes when the Vodafone Warriors weren’t able to defuse a bomb, Panthers right winger Zac Mackay scoring wide out and Dockar-Clay converting.

Five minutes later the visitors had the lead when prop Viliame Kikau scored near the posts, rumbling through the Vodafone Warriors from close range.

The try was converted and the advantage was out to 30-24.

The Vodafone Warriors, guilty of an error-ridden second half effort, couldn’t respond and in the final minute Penrith completed an outstanding comeback victory, hitting the right edge for Mackay to step back inside for his second try.

The goal-kicking was outstanding in perfect conditions, Dockar-Clay making it six from six to seal the deal (Lino also without a miss in four attempts).

Details | Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland

Vodafone Warriors 24 (Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2, Henare Wells, George Carmont tries; Mason Lino 4 conversions).

Penrith Panthers 36 (Zac Mackay 2, Raymond Lesoa, George Jennings, Corey Harawira-Naera, Viliame Kikau tries; Zach Dockar-Clay 6 conversions).

Halftime: 24-12 Vodafone Warriors.

Vodafone Warriors | Henare Wells; Viliami Kaveinga, George Carmont, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Matt Allwood; Erin Clark, Mason Lino (c); Bunty Afoa, Nathaniel Roache, Ligi Sao; John Palavi, Shaun Lane; Jazz Tevaga. Interchange: Toafofoa Sipley, James Bell, Upu Poching, Semisi Tyrell.