Panthers celebrate Wallace's 200th in style
The Penrith Panthers momentarily returned to the NRL Telstra Premiership top eight with a gritty 28-26 win over a fast-finishing South Sydney Rabbitohs at Pepper Stadium on Friday night.
The hosts looked in complete control up by 14 points with seven minutes to go, but a late double to Sam Burgess set up a dramatic final minute with a Cody Walker kick just eluding Aaron Gray from the last play of the game.
The Rabbitohs looked the better side in the first half and even led with 22 minutes to go but were eventually run down by a Penrith team desperate to celebrate skipper Peter Wallace's 200th NRL game with a win.
Bryce Cartwright did his State of Origin hopes no harm with another quality attacking performance that included three try assists while Nathan Cleary continued to show maturity beyond his years in just his third game in first grade.
Burgess and Walker were the standouts for the Bunnies, with the Englishman adding 216 metres to his two-try haul while the Rabbitohs five-eighth came up with three try assists and looked threatening every time he touched the ball.
South Sydney grabbed first points for the second Friday night in a row courtesy of Kyle Turner, with the back-rower charging onto an inside ball from Walker to give his side the lead inside 10 minutes.
It took just five minutes for the hosts to hit back with the youthful trio of Cartwright, Cleary and Matt Moylan combining to send Dallin Watene-Zelezniak over for a sparkling try that should have Penrith fans licking their lips for the years ahead.
The Rabbitohs regained the lead 23 minutes into the contest via the right boot of Walker but it barely lasted as the Panthers responded shortly after to poke their noses in front.
Cartwright was once again heavily involved, attracting several defenders on the last tackle before offloading at the perfect moment to send recently re-signed winger Josh Mansour over for his seventh try of the year.
Despite dominating possession, and although they made more metres and fewer tackles, the Rabbitohs found themselves trailing 10-8 at half-time after what was their best 40-minute performance in nearly a month.
It only took four minutes into the second stanza for the Bunnies to overturn the narrow deficit, however, with Walker again throwing the final pass for Greg Inglis to cut back against the grain and celebrate his return to the centres with a try.
It wouldn't be a Panthers game without some drama and after a sustained period of pressure on the South Sydney line, the ever-improving Leilani Latu crashed over off a Wallace pass from dummy-half for the fourth lead change of the night.
Having traded tries for the first hour of the match, Penrith became the first team to go back-to-back when Moylan released Cartwright through the middle before the makeshift No.6 linked up with his halves partner to send Cleary over for his second try in as many matches.
It could have been three tries in the space of five minutes after Tyrone Peachey crossed from a Moylan kick, but the bunker concurred with the on-field decision of no try after Mansour interfered with Aaron Gray in the air.
It mattered little however as Chris Grevsmuhl latched onto a Cartwright offload to score against his former team to ice the game with 10 minutes remaining.
There was time for one final twist with Burgess racing onto a grubber from John Sutton before the Englishman backed up a Walker break to complete his double one minute from full-time.
Panthers 28 (Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Josh Mansour, Leilani Latu, Nathan Cleary, Chris Grevsmuhl tries; Nathan Cleary 4 goals) defeated Rabbitohs 26 (Sam Burgess 2, Kyle Turner, Greg Inglis tries; Cody Walker 5 goals) at Pepper Stadium. Half-time: 10-8 Panthers. Crowd: 13,080.