Wests Tigers NSW Cup side have gone down 12-10 to the defending premiers Penrith Panthers in a tough and gritty contest at Pepper Stadium.
Down 10-0 at the main break, Wests Tigers showed great courage to fight their way back into the match and level the score at 10-10, before a penalty goal late in the match saw the Panthers steal a 12-10 victory from their Round 5 match.
In wet conditions at Pepper Stadium, chances were few and far between in the opening part of the game as Wests Tigers struggled to get out of their own end but the home side failed to capitalize on their possession and territorial advantage.
The Panthers would eventually break the deadlock in the 23rd minute after picking up the first penalty of the day — spreading the ball to the far left corner where Nu’u Akeripa burst through a tackle from Nofoaluma. Will Smith was unable to add the extras, leaving the score at 4-0.
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As the two teams continued to complete their sets but not assert any real dominance, a dropped bomb from Smith offered Paul Fletcher’s side a chance to hit back in the 32 minute, with two consecutive sets on the hosts’ goal line.
A grubber from Drinkwater had chasers in support, and looked promising but it quickly turned into an attacking opportunity for the Panthers, as Smith scooped up the ball and broke up field. The following tackle, a shift to the right saw George Jennings release Akeripa, who beat Nofoaluma down the left wing to score his second of the day.
Isaac John added the extras from in front to extend the hosts’ lead to 10-0 in the 37th minute, which is how it would read moments later as the half-time siren sounded.
Wests Tigers would hit back shortly after the break, with a brilliantly executed back-line move coming off in the wet. Drinkwater quickly batted the ball on to Chance Peni, who caught the ball in his fingertips at full stretch before diving over to score out wide.
Drinkwater misses the conversion, leaving the score at 10-4 after 43 minutes.
Fletcher’s side threatened to hit back again as they went close through Akauola and Lulia, but wouldn’t be able to find the final pass to unlock the Panthers’ defence.
They would eventually level the match in the 60th minute when Drinkwater played an inch-perfect kick for Shannon McDonnell to race through and touch down.
Drinkwater then added the extras from next to the posts to lock the score up at 10-10.
Penrith quickly hit back, though, with a penalty goal from close to the uprights from Smith following a strong break up the right wing by Robert Jennings.
That gave the hosts a 12-10 lead with just 14 minutes remaining in the match.
Nofoaluma threatened to steal back the lead with a big run up the right wing, but despite his grubber appearing to be regathered by a Panthers player in an offside position, the play was allowed to stand and Penrith survived the counterattacking raid.
That would be the final opportunity for either side, as the Panthers hung on to record a 12-10 win and inflict a second straight defeat for Wests Tigers’ NSW Cup side.
Wests Tigers will look to bounce back in the winners circle next week when they take on the New Zealand Warriors at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday, April 11.
NSW CUP FULL TIME — Penrith Panthers 12 (Akeripa 2, Smith 1/2 goals, John 1/1 goals) def. Wests Tigers 10 (Peni, McDonnell tries; Drinkwater 1/1 goals)