The Panthers enjoyed an 18-12 win over Mounties in a NSW Cup trial match at St Marys Leagues Stadium on Saturday night.
After falling behind by 12 points early in the first half, the Panthers rallied to come away victorious, with tries to Thomas Jenkins, Billy Burns, John Faiumu and Taylan May.
The match offered an opportunity for eight members of the top 30 NRL squad to build some match fitness, as well as the junior players who sat out the vast majority of 2020 in the absence of lower grade competitions.
With Ivan Cleary coaching the side, he provided a small glimpse at some of his potential plans for the season ahead. Paul Momirovski partnered up with Charlie Staines on the right edge, while Matt Burton took to the field at left centre.
Trial Highlights: Panthers v Mounties
The occasion marked the first appearance of new recruits Momirovski and Jaeman Salmon in a Panthers jersey, and neither put a foot wrong.
Spencer Leniu provided plenty of aggression with several barnstorming runs, and was partnered in the front row by young Lindsay Smith.
An inexperienced Mounties side delivered an early shock to the Panthers, laying on two tries inside the first 15 minutes to lead 12-0. Each try came attacking a youthful Panthers right edge defence.
But the Panthers responded before the quarter-time interval, thanks to a lovely play from Brendan Hands.
The young halfback, who sat out most of 2020 in the absence of lower grade competitions, rolled a perfectly placed grubber behind the Mounties defence for winger Thomas Jenkins to pounce in the corner.
Hands’ sideline conversion attempt strayed just wide, and it remained 12-4.
The Panthers were twice denied a second try in quick succession; second rower Izack Tago was ruled to have dropped the ball over the line, and then Kurt Falls was pinged for a forward pass after he sent Jenkins into space.
Staines and Momirovski linked nicely in defence to prevent a certain Mounties try, propelling their opposite winger into touch.
Shortly after Falls forced a goal-line dropout, the Panthers finally got their much-deserved second try on the cusp on halftime.
Jaeman Salmon directed play down the short side, where Billy Burns sliced through the defence with a dummy and skipped away to score. Matt Burton then converted from out wide, reducing the margin to two points at the break.
HALF-TIME: MOUNTIES 12 – PANTHERS 10
The Panthers turned on the pressure gauge early in the second half, attacking the Mounties goal-line for an extended period, but the visitors were up to the task.
After another brave defensive effort by Mounties, the Panthers eventually found a breakthrough in the 53rd minute. A short ball by fullback Sunia Turuva sent big-man second rower John Faiumu crashing over the line, putting the Panthers in the lead for the first time all night.
The Panthers held a 14-12 advantage heading into the final 20 minutes, as the likes of Staines, Leniu, Burton, Momirovski and Burns were pulled off.
One of the few NRL players left on the field, Jaeman Salmon played a hand in a lovely try which gave the Panthers some breathing space in the 73rd minute.
In a well-worked backline play, Salmon – who shifted to centre in the second half – threw the final pass to set up Taylan May’s diving finish in the corner.
With another missed conversion, the difference was only six points, giving Mounties a chance to snatch a late draw.
The away side asked some serious questions late on, but the Panthers showed great resolve in defence to hold on for a deserved victory.
The Panthers’ preparations for the 2021 season continues next week with a Battle of the West triple-header at Panthers Stadium.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 18 – MOUNTIES 12