Tedesco fires as Tigers down Panthers
The Wests Tigers have produced some of their best football of the season to win the battle of the big cats with an entertaining 34-26 victory over the Panthers at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
Penrith looked to be in cruise control up 14-2 midway through the first half but were blown off the park after that as the Tigers ran in 32 straight points to spoil Zak Hardaker's first game in the NRL.
Time and time again the hosts were able to repel a Penrith side that finished the game with a whopping 21 offloads, with the Tigers displaying desperate defence that would undoubtedly have had coach Jason Taylor smiling from ear to ear.
It was billed as a battle of the fullbacks but it turned into a non-contest as Tigers custodian James Tedesco enhanced his claims to steal Matt Moylan's Blues No.1 jersey with another outstanding performance.
Tedesco toyed with the Panthers' defence at times, burning fellow Origin hopeful Bryce Cartwright twice to set up a try in each half and finished the game with two line breaks and almost 140 metres.
Panthers winger Josh Mansour could hold his head high after he ran for 245 metres, made three line breaks and freakishly touched down for the game's opening try.
Penrith's night was further soured by a potentially serious knee injury to prop Sam McKendry who was taken from the field 11 minutes into the contest on a medi-cab.
The Panthers took advantage of back-to-back penalties to open the scoring via a Nathan Cleary goal but the Tigers responded in kind to make it 2-2 after 15 minutes.
Defence dominated the early proceedings but there was nothing the Tigers could do to deny Mansour; the Panthers winger spectacularly planting the ball despite being suspended in mid-air and seemingly contained by Tedesco.
Mansour's theatrics seemed to inspire his teammate with the Panthers scoring again from the very next set as some quick hands from Tyrone Peachey and Matt Moylan turned a Nathan Cleary bomb into a James Fisher-Harris try.
Spurred into action the black and golds turned to their marquee man Tedesco for inspiration, the Tigers fullback getting on the outside of fellow Origin hopeful Bryce Cartwright before releasing Tim Simona for the immediate response.
The Panthers looked destined to extend their lead with Mansour bursting through following some enterprising play in their own in-goal, but it would be the Tigers who scored next through a very unlikely source.
After David Nofoaluma shut down an attacking raid with a crucial interception, the Tigers countered with Luke Brooks putting Chris Lawrence into space before positioning Ava Seumanufagai to score just the third try of his NRL career.
Despite being on the back foot for most of the first half, the Tigers sensationally hit the front after Tim Simona gleefully intercepted a Moylan pass to run 60 metres to complete his double.
Incredibly there was still time for one more highlight as the Tigers again turned defence into attack with David Nofoaluma reeling in a Mitch Moses kick as the half-time siren sounded to make it 22-14 at the break.
Having completed at just 56 per cent in the first half, the Panthers fittingly started the second stanza with another error in good field position.
It was a mistake they would rue as Tedesco burnt Cartwright for the second time to streak through and send Jordan Rankin over just three minutes into the half.
The Panthers simply had to be the next team to score and looked to have done just that when Fisher-Harris strolled over off another Cleary kick only for the bunker to find a Moylan error in the lead-up.
Instead, crowd favourite Robbie Farah backed up a big break by Sauaso Sue with 17 minutes to go to kill off any hopes of a Panthers comeback although Trent Merrin and Isaah Yeo did manage a couple of consolation tries at the death.
Wests Tigers 34 (Tim Simona 2, Ava Seumanufagai, David Nofoaluma, Jordan Rankin, Robbie Farah tries; Mitchell Moses 4 goals) defeated Panthers 26 (Josh Mansour, James Fisher-Harris, Trent Merrin, Isaah Yeo tries; Nathan Cleary 5 goals) defeated at ANZ Stadium Half-time: 22-14 Wests Tigers. Crowd: 10,582.