NYC Panthers pounce late to extend winning streak
Three late tries to the Panthers helped the defending premiers scrape their way to a seventh straight Holden Cup win with a tense 24-14 victory over the Sharks at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
The Sharks held a 14-10 lead with 15 minutes to play, but two tries to Penrith fullback Dylan Edwards and another to winger Ratu Tuisese proved the difference as the defending premiers continued their tremendous start to 2016.
With regular five-eighth Jarome Luai out with a knee injury, the Panthers were forced to make another change to their spine late in the first half with No.9 Wayde Egan (arm) succumbing to injury.
The loss was Cronulla's second of the season and they can take plenty of positives despite the end result. Hooker Jayden Brailey was outstanding with two try assists while Will Kennedy looked threatening at the back.
The Sharks fired the first shot of the afternoon with Brailey putting lock forward Jayden McDonogh through a yawning gap, only for the pass to be called forward.
From there, the Panthers marched downfield and methodically opened the scoring through Braidon Burns who cut back off his left foot to power his way over the line.
The script said Penrith would kick on from there, but no one seemed to have told the Sharks. Lachlan Stein was held up after having a crack from dummy half, and one set later the Brailey-McDonogh combination struck gold with an almost identical play this time passing muster.
A lazy effort from Reed Izzard to get back onside for a quick tap was duly punished by the hosts who took advantage off a 20 metre restart of their own to take the lead.
A terrific sweep play from the left finished in the hands of fullback Rhys Kennedy who threw the final pass to send Sione Katoa over in the left corner to give Cronulla a deserved lead.
The Panthers had their chances to level the scores, but Dylan Edwards dropped the ball over the line before Wayde Egan was held up by some determined defence moments later.
But with possession on their side, the Panthers showed their premiership winning resolve to hit back on the half-hour mark through try-scoring machine Ratu Tuisese.
The ladder leaders then looked to have retaken the lead, only for the officials to rightly disallow Jake Ennis's try after a knock on by Robert Jennings in the lead up.
That missed chance would come back to haunt the Panthers as Cronulla struck gold just before the break with Brailey sending Billy Magoulias over on the last tackle to give the hosts a slender 14-10 lead.
A nervy second half finally came to life in the 66th minute when Edwards spun out of two would-be defenders to crash over before halfback Nathan Cleary slotted the conversion to give his side the lead.
Burns combined with Tuisese for the second time eight minutes later to extend the lead before the Panthers No.1 finished off some dogged work by Tyrone May to seal the 10-point win.
Penrith Panthers 24 (Ratu Tuisese 2, Dylan Edwards 2, Braidon Burns tries; Nathan Cleary 2 goals) defeated Cronulla Sharks 14 (Jayden McDonogh, Sione Katoa, Billy Magoulias tries; Bessie Aufaga-Toomaga 1 goals) at Southern Cross Group Stadium. Half-time: 14-10 Sharks.