Penrith has slipped out of the top eight after a second half collapse saw the Wests Tigers capitalise and snatch an unlikely victory at Centrebet Stadium this afternoon.
The Panthers gave up an 18-8 lead to go down 20-18 in front of nearly 17,000 fans – the biggest crowd at Penrith this season.
All appeared to be on track in the early stages, with Penrith dominating field position and David Simmons scoring the opening try after some terrific lead-up work from Dean Whare out wide.
But like they did for most of the match, the Tigers stayed in touch, and hit back through the first of David Nofoaluma’s two tries.
When the Panthers bagged the next two tries – the first a rampaging effort from Mose Masoe and the second a terrific finish by Whare off an Isaac John kick – it seemed as though the home side was set to run away with the game.
Again the Tigers fought back though, reducing a 14-point deficit just before half time when Nofoaluma bagged his second.
Leading 18-8 at the break, the Panthers had numerous opportunities during the second half to wrap up the win, but failed to capitalise on their opportunities.
As the second stanza unfolded, Penrith tried to defend their lead, and were punished when the Tigers reduced the deficit to just four points mid-way through the first half.
James Segeyaro would produce a stunning tackle to hold Curtis Sironen up over the line, but the Tigers still had plenty to offer, and an 80 metre team effort 12 minutes from full time saw Tim Simona cross to level the scores, with Benji Marshall converting to put Wests in front for the first time.
The Panthers tried hard to regain the lead in the final 10 minutes, but the damage had been done, and the Tigers held on for an emotional win that lifted them from the bottom of the competition table.
Penrith clearly missed fullback Matt Moylan – his attacking flair would have certainly made a difference when the Tigers were on the ropes in the first half, and who knows if he would have stopped Simona’s match-winning try.
Nigel Plum and Mose Masoe did a great job up front for the Panthers, and Isaac John was involved in everything, but Penrith panicked their way to a defeat and clearly didn’t display the urgency or commitment they have in previous weeks.
After the match, coach Ivan Cleary said the Tigers took advantage of Penrith’s failings.
“We certainly opened the door for a stirring comeback from them,” Cleary said.
“We opened the door and they were good enough to stick their foot in.”
Cleary said his side couldn’t quite close out the win.
“I think it was a pretty tough game – it was obviously close, and we got out to a good lead and the second half was just one of those halves where we had chances but couldn’t quite nail it,” he said.
“We weren’t good enough today.”
“We were just hoping they’d go away, and they didn’t.”