Panthers reclaim top spot with win over Dragons
Penrith have reclaimed their position at the top of the NRL table with an 18-14 win over St George-Illawarra in front of a crowd of 13,768 at Sportingbet Stadium on Saturday night.
With the Dragons facing an 18-10 deficit entering the final minutes, a 79th-minute try to Jason Nightingale out wide set up a grandstand finish but the Panthers held on to extend their winning streak to five.
It took just four minutes for Penrith to show why they're where they are on the ladder, taking advantage of a 5th-tackle penalty by Tyson Frizell with a rehearsed right-side shift that gave Dean Whare the first of his two tries of the evening.
The visitors then began to work their way into the game, limiting their hosts to just one possession in the opposition red zone inside the opening 20 minutes and camping themselves in front of the southern hill.
But the second-best defence in the NRL turned the Dragons away each time and when they finally got into good field position in the 23rd minute, their defence was rewarded with another try to Whare, this time the beneficiary of a tapback from winger Kevin Naiqama off a Peter Wallace cross-field kick.
Soward's sideline conversion bounced in off the timber and after a quarter of the game, Penrith were well in control at 12-0.
However the hospitable Panthers continued to turn the ball over in their own half and the Dragons needed no second invitation, continuing their assault down the left edge – a game plan that had yet to succeed in the first 35 minutes – and finally coming through with a Charly Runciman four-pointer that left them with an eight-point deficit at the break.
The outsiders then picked up where they left off in the second half. After almost going the length of the field in their opening set, then immediately forcing a Panthers error in the next, they executed a set play that resulted in right winger Jason Nightingale crossing, again, down the left corridor.
And, after going end-to-end, they could've gone back-to-back had Benji Marshall executed a three-on-two – but those rusty rugby hands failed him as his pass dribbled over Nightingale's feet and into touch.
That mistake – as well as the insertion of rookie Bryce Cartwright – proved a turning point as the Panthers responded with a 60-metre movement in the 54th minute that began with a trademark offload from the second-gamer and finished with Soward sending Mansour over in the left corner.
Soward restored Penrith's two-try lead with his third sideline conversion of the night.
From there the Panthers controlled proceedings until the 79th minute, when Nightingale's try set up a nervous finish, but the home side held on for the win.
Dragons lock Tyson Frizell came off early in the first half with an ankle injury and did not return.
Penrith 18 (Whare 2, Mansour tries; Soward 3 goals) def St George-Illawarra 14 (Nightingale 2, Runciman tries; Widdop goal). Crowd: 13,768.