Warriors end Panthers' NYC streak
The longest unbeaten streak in Holden Cup history has come to an end with the Penrith Panthers' run of 16 games without a loss coming unstuck against the Warriors.
The Junior Warriors were thumped by the defending premiers 74-10 when they met earlier in the year, but exacted revenge with a thrilling 30-28 win at Mt Smart Stadium to keep their finals hopes alive.
The warning signs were there when late inclusion Bunty Afoa offloaded in traffic to send fullback Kane Telea over after 11 minutes to give the hosts an early lead.
There were no signs of panic from the Panthers as No.9 Wayde Egan fought his way through some would-be defenders to score, but a set piece from the scrum – and the raw speed of Junior Pauga – allowed the hosts to reclaim their narrow advantage.
Anything but overawed by the shock scoreline, the Warriors extended their lead in the shadows of half-time with a wonderfully worked move through the middle ended up with Joseph Price crossing to make it 14-6 at the break.
The change of ends made no difference to the flow of the game with Warriors winger Lewis Soosemea showing brute strength to crash over in the corner.
Stung into action, the Panthers showed their mettle with three tries in six minutes to somehow take the lead, with halfback Jarome Luai playing a key role in tries to Corey Waddell and Tyrone May.
A second try to Waddell in the 55th minute gave the visitors a 22-20 lead, but any thoughts they would run away with it were put to bed when Matt Faitotoa barged over from dummy-half to help his side retake the lead.
Erin Clark looked to have put the result beyond doubt with his first of the afternoon, but a quick response to Jack Nelson set up a grandstand finish.
The Panthers had their chances at the death but couldn't capitalise on a late line dropout to suffer their first defeat since Round 1 of the season.
Warriors 30 (Kane Telea, Junior Pauga, Joseph Price, Lewis Soosemea, Matt Faitotoa, Erin Clark; Junior Pauga 3 goals) defeated Panthers 28 (Corey Waddell 2, Wayde Egan, Tyrone May, Jack Nelson; Jarome Luai 4 goals) at Mt Smart Stadium. Half-time: 14-6 Warriors.