Panthers steal a thriller at the death
A stunning try after the siren to Panthers back-rower Bryce Cartwright has stolen a win in the battle of the west at Pirtek Stadium.
When Jamie Soward missed a conversion from touch to leave his side 18-16 down with a few minutes to go it looked like the Panthers would just fall short.
But they launched one final assault and despite some desperate defence from the Eels, Jamie Soward's cross-field kick reached Waqa Blake who offloaded to Cartwright who planted down for the match-winner.
The Eels were left ruing a scrum call overturned by the bunker when they were up 18-12 and awarded the feed at their own line before the review officials found a slight knock on from Kenny Edwards to overturn the call.
That set the stage for Penrith captain Matt Moylan, in his first NRL game since injuring his ankle against the Eels at Pepper Stadium in Round 12 last year, to produce a sublime tap-on to set up Josh Mansour in the corner to get his side within two points.
Moylan looked like he'd never been away despite the almost year-long absence, proving a safe presence at the back and chiming into the line to take pressure off the main playmakers as well as providing another kicking option.
The Eels played positive footy and had to repel plenty of Penrith ball at their own line but, after losing countless matches last year through late fade-outs, will be hugely disappointed to have let another win slip.
The first half evolved into an enthralling contest after an early spate of errors from both sides had died down.
There was a disallowed try apiece at the bunker; Brad Takairangi was denied due to a decoy runner infield contacting the Penrith line in just the fifth minute.
Bryce Cartwright also had an effort overruled in the 20th minute when it was found a Soward bomb – which was launched from deep behind the line with most of his team offside – hadn't travelled 10 metres after being collected by Tyrone Peachey (one of the few onside chasers) before finding an offside Te Maire Martin in support.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 23rd minute by big Eels prop Junior Paulo, who became first try-scorer two matches in a row following a similar effort last week against Wests Tigers. Again he hit a quality Foran pass at pace to burst through the line.
Cartwright eventually got his name on the scoresheet three minutes from the break when a run of penalties handed Penrith attacking field position and he proved strong enough to wrestle the ball down – eventually – despite the attention of several defenders next to the posts.
It became two Panther tries in little over five minutes of play when Peter Wallace scooted over from dummy half shortly after the resumption.
The square-up from the home side came in the 53rd minute when Josh Mansour had the ball bumped from his grasp on a kick return and Michael Gordon ran away to score, though the fullback missed the chance to convert his own try.
He added the two points eventually when a run of penalties against Penrith – on the back of Norman making a long run after trapping a Martin kick – finished with Gordon nailing two from in front thanks to Trent Merrin not being square at marker.
The home side earned the outright lead the very next set when Clint Gutherson made a break down the right and put in a lovely kick over the top that bounced viciously for Penrith and sat up perfectly for Isaac De Gois to collect it and score.
With the clock running out on Penrith there was another twist in the tail – a knock on against the Panthers in front of the Eels' posts was overturned before the scrum was fed after the bunker intervened due to a slight knock on from Kenny Edwards as the first infringement.
From the ensuing set a wonderful tap-on from Panthers captain Matt Moylan created a try in the corner for Josh Mansour and despite Soward's missed conversion Penrith were able to charge downfield, earn a repeat set with 40 seconds to go when the Eels knocked down a pass and steal an after-the-siren thriller.
Penrith Panthers 20 (Bryce Cartwright 2, Peter Wallace, Josh Mansour tries; Soward 2 goals) def Parramatta Eels 18 (Joseph Paulo, Michael Gordon, Isaac De Gois tries; Gordon 3 goals) at Pirtek Stadium. Crowd: 15,600..