Penrith Panthers skipper Matt Moylan set up two tries in the final three minutes to pull off a miracle comeback over the Canberra Raiders 24-20 in a heated and entertaining clash at Carrington Park on Saturday.
A strong defensive display from Ricky Stuart's men after a weight of possession against them in the opening 40 minutes looked to have set up the victory, before the Panthers came from nowhere to steal the win.
Trailing by eight with under three minutes left, a late try to Panthers back-rower Corey Harawira-Naera set up a frantic finish, before the Panthers went 100 metres in the next set with Tyrone Peachey backing up in support of a Moylan offload to race 30 metres and score under the posts in front of a strong crowd of 8730 in Bathurst.
Things got heated in the final play before the break with Harawira-Naera and Raiders back-rower Joseph Tapine coming to blows and being sent to the sin bin at the end of a frustrating opening stanza.
Both teams were guilty of poor execution in the opening 40 with a number of half chances going to ground and completion rates below 70 per cent heading into the break.
Reduced to 12 men for the opening 10 minutes of the second term, it took just 47 seconds after the break for the Panthers to strike with Dylan Edwards linking up with Moylan to find Nathan Cleary in open space to dive over under the posts and extend their lead.
Penrith's eight-point lead was shortly reduced to two when a stock-standard high kick from Aidan Sezer was contested well by Raiders fullback Jack Wighton who batted the ball back for Nick Cotric to cross out wide.
The Raiders went back-to-back and took the lead for the first time in the match with 23 minutes to go when English international Elliott Whitehead outleaped Moylan and flicked outside for Joey Leilua to cross, before some quick hands from skipper Jarrod Croker to Cotric for his second four-pointer took the Raiders out to an eight-point lead – their biggest of the game.
Earlier in the contest, the Panthers got off to a shaky start with James Tamou conceding an early penalty on Raiders lock Luke Bateman, before Trent Merrin lost the ball attempting to offload on tackle two in the Panthers' first set with the ball.
Canberra took advantage from the scrum play in the fourth minute when quick hands from Blake Austin and Wighton sent in-form Rapana over for the opening try – his 50th four-pointer in the NRL.
After a strong performance in the No.6 jersey against the Bulldogs last week, Moylan continued his try-scoring form when he split between Austin and Wighton to put his team on the board in the 12th minute.
Cleary caused Wighton a headache at the back with a spiralling kick that went to ground as the Raiders conceded four penalties on their line, however Ricky Stuart's men muscled up in defence to deny the Panthers at the back end of the first half with the home side tackled on the last tackle in attack on four occasions.
Penrith were starved of possession at the back end of the contest until the class of Moylan proved the difference with the Panthers registering their fourth victory in a row.
Penrith Panthers 24 (Moylan, Cleary, Harawira-Naera, Peachey tries; Cleary 4 goals) defeated Canberra Raiders 20 (Cotric 2, Rapana, Leilua tries; Croker 2 goals) at Carrington Park. Half-time: Panthers 6-4. Crowd: 8730.