The Penrith Panthers were looking for their ninth consecutive win to go back to the top of the NRL ladder, but if the last few weeks have taught us anything it is that their opponents today, the New Zealand Warriors, are the most unpredictable side in the league.
The coaches made just one change each, Isaiah Papali’i replaced Jack Hetherington for the Warriors, while Dylan Edwards took the place of Caleb Aekins.
The Warriors were long odds with the bookies to spring a surprise from eleventh place, but they had won their last two outings against the Tigers and Wests. Oh, and it was raining Gosford, making the game more of a lottery.
Relentless pressure from the Panthers had the Warriors defending their own goal-line for eight out of the first nine sets. On ten minutes the line finally broke with a long miss-out pass from Nathan Cleary finding Brent Naden in an acre of space down the right wing to cross in the corner. Cleary couldn’t add the extra two points.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Jazz Tevaga did brilliantly on twenty to stop James Fisher-Harris from getting the ball on the ground under the sticks as the excellent Warriors defence continued to frustrate a rampant Panthers.
A Lachlan Burr last tackle pass went into the hands of the Stephen Crichton who countered and two tackles later Apisai Koroisau ducked under the tacklers as the Panthers momentum helped them to their second try. Clear was able to add the extra two this time for 10-0.
On thirty--five the Panthers got their third as Dylan Edwards win the race to ground a Josh Mansour grubber from the touchline towards the sticks. Cleary added the extras, Penrith starting to get free of the Warriors despite their plucky performance.
With just a second remaining on the first half clock a flying Tuivasa-Sheck took to high kick towards the posts and fell over the line to ground and offer a chink of light for the Warriors. Patrick Herbert kicked the two for 6-16 at the interval.
It was end-to-end in the opening fifteen of the second half with New Zealand getting themselves right back in the game. A Nikorima held onto the pass long enough to create the space for Herbert to dive over in the corner. Herbert tagged the extra two onto his try and the Warriors were back within four.
In deteriorating condition, the rain becoming torrential, the Panthers slowed the clock and took a penalty goal on sixty to edge back to six points ahead as Cleary slotted the ball through the sticks.
Viliame Kikau had a try ruled out for the Panthers on sixty-seven for an obstruction and it would be the colest that either side would get to scoring in the closing twenty minutes.
To say that there was only one try in the second half it was a frantic forty minutes. The Panthers were holding on at time but did manage to record their ninth consecutive victory, a club record, and return to the top of the pile. All credit to a Warriors side who never gave up trying but who were ultimately beaten by the final hooter.
New Zealand Warriors: Tuivasa-Sheck (T), Herbert (T, 3G), Pompey, Hiku, Jennings, Nikorima, Harris-Tavita, Taunoa-Brown, Lawton, Burr, Katoa, Harris, Tevaga. Subs: Egan, Blair, Alvaro, Papali’i.
Penrith Panthers: Edwards (T), Mansour, May, Crichton, Naden (T), Luai, Cleary (3G), Tamou, Koroisau (T), Fisher-Harris, Kikau, Martin, Teo. Subs: Laurie, Leniu, Leota, Tetevano.
Ground: Central Coast Stadium, Gold Coast.