Cleary the late hero as Panthers beat Raiders
A clutch field-goal from Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary has sealed a stunning come-from-behind victory for the Panthers as they retained their place at the top of the ladder by beating Canberra 23-22 at GIO Stadium on Friday night.
The see-sawing game had everything including more heartbreak for the Raiders who lost for the fourth time this season when leading with 10 minutes remaining.
All four of Penrith's State of Origin stars shined while backing up 48 hours after NSW's victory over the Maroons at the MCG.
Queensland and Canberra star Josh Papalii was outstanding in a beaten side, leading from the front with 115 run metres and 36 tackles.
The home side suffered a blow early after Joey Leilua came off second best from a Regan Campbell-Gillard hit up, with the centre reeling out of the collision before being taking off the field for a HIA test and failing to return.
Match: Raiders vs Panthers
Venue: GIO Stadium
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Penrith opened the scoring after a kick from James Maloney was toed ahead before a scramble in the corner saw Tyrone Peachey dive on the loose ball to make the score 4-0.
The Panthers edged ahead further thanks to a penalty goal from right in front, after Aidan Sezer was penalised for obstructing Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Ill-discipline continued to plague the Raiders' performance early, with Canberra under pressure again after Jordan Rapana took a quick tap coming out of his own half, only to turn it over in the subsequent hit-up.
Penrith continued to take the points on offer as Maloney sent another penalty through the posts as the away side continued to apply the pressure.
Off the back of a 20-metre restart, the Raiders marched down the field in the 16th minute before shifting the ball to the left to find Nick Cotric who continued his try-scoring purple patch making it six tries in the last five games.
Despite having had little ball through the first quarter of the game, Jarrod Croker's conversion saw the home side get back into the contest at 8-6 down.
Canberra continued their turnaround by sending plenty of traffic towards the Panthers' right edge, with Jack Wighton falling just short after reaching out after making a half line-break.
Penrith suffered a blow just before half-time when Kaide Ellis was sent to the sin-bin for holding the player down in the tackle.
Rapana made up for two early errors by pulling off a crucial 40/20 against the run of play.
The late glut of possession for Canberra saw them boot a penalty goal from right in front to go into the break locked with Penrith at 8-8.
Penrith suffered a significant blow at the break with news forward Viliame Kikau had suffered a suspected MCL knee injury and did not return.
The Panthers were given the best possible start to the second stanza, with a cheap turnover before a penalty for off-side seeing Maloney slot another easy shot on goal to make it 10-8 for the away side.
Raiders interchange forward Charlie Gubb will be sweating on the match review committee after being placed report for a late hit on Nathan Cleary.
Canberra gained the lead for the first time in a bizarre passage of play. A wild pass put Peachey under pressure who coughed up the ball and allowed Rapana to score untouched.
The bench of the Raiders was further tested when Rapana's mixed night continued when he was taken from the field with a lower leg injury.
Josh Papalii continued his outstanding game to record a try assist to Elliott Whitehead who helped give the side a 10-point lead.
A repeat set at half-way gave the Panthers the platform to attack which saw Peachey plunge over to keep Penrith in the hunt at 20-16.
Croker composed himself to slot another penalty despite copping a high tackle from Corey Harawira-Naera to give the home side a crucial six-point lead before the heart-stopping finish.
An ill-advised field goal from dummy half by Siliva Havili saw Penrith go the length of the field to see Whare score and Maloney nail the sideline conversion to lock the score up at 22-all before Cleary sealed the win late.
News & Notes: Raiders forward Dunamis Lui played his 100th NRL game ... Penrith had not conceded a try in the past two games before Nick Cotric scored in the 16th minute ... Canberra centre Joey Leilua was taken from the ground with a concussion in the 1st minute and did not return ... Raiders forward Charlie Gubb was placed on report for a dangerous tackle on Nathan Cleary... Next week: Panthers away to Roosters on Friday; Raiders away to Tigers on Sunday