Wests Tigers have fallen short in a back-and-forth contest against the Penrith Panthers this afternoon, going down 28-14 in front of a vocal Pepper Stadium crowd.
Trailing just 10-8 at half-time courtesy of a last-minute try in the first half to David Nofoaluma, Wests Tigers battled gamely all day against a Penrith side desperate to keep their finals hopes alive, but ultimately fell short in a highly engrossing contest with two late tries to the home side ensuring a 14-point win in the end.
Forced to do a mountain of defence early in the contest, Wests Tigers were perhaps somewhat fortunate to still see the game level at 0-0 after 15 minutes of play, with Tyrone May and Tyrone Peachey both denied tries for obstruction by the Bunker.
Penrith would eventually cross for first points through a Wests Tigers error —Nofoaluma spilling the ball inside his own 20m, allowing Tyrone Peachey to race away.
Nathan Cleary added the extras from out wide, taking the score to 6-0 after 20 minutes.
It wouldn’t take long for Nofoaluma to make up for his earlier error, spinning his way through Josh Mansour to touch down in the corner after some spectacular work in the lead-up from Tui Lolohea, breaking the line open before throwing a spectacular pass.
Lolohea was unable to convert from out wide, leaving the score at 6-4.
Penrith would quickly hit back with their second try of the day — this time a shift to the left creating space as Waqa Blake beat several defenders before putting Dallin Watene-Zelezniak over untouched in the corner. Cleary’s conversion bounced away off the goal post, however, giving the Panthers a 10-4 lead with eight minutes left in the half.
With just seconds remaining before half-time, Wests Tigers would incredibly grab their second try of the game through Nofoaluma, with a close call going the way of the visitors thanks to some remarkable footwork and hands from Esan Marsters in the build-up.
Lolohea was again unable to land the sideline conversion, leaving the Penrith Panthers with a narrow 10-8 lead as both teams hit the half-time sheds at Pepper Stadium.
Penrith would begin the second half the stronger of the two sides, and restored their two-try advantage in the 45th minute when Dylan Edwards managed to find the line.
Cleary had no problem adding the extras this time, taking the hosts’ lead to 16-8.
With Penrith on the attack and full of confidence, it appeared that Wests Tigers would fall further behind, before Michael Chee Kam swooped on a loose ball and darted up field. Off the following play, Luke Brooks dummied and found the Panthers’ napping in defence, racing away to score under the posts and cut the hosts’ lead to just two.
Isaah Yeo went within a whisker of crossing with 10 minutes on the clock, denied only by a brilliant cover tackle from Lolohea that saw the ball stopped short of the line.
However, with the game in the balance, it would be another acrobatic finish from Watene-Zelezniak that sealed the win for the home side — latching on to a long pass from Cleary after a Corey Harawira-Naera break to ensure a gritty win for the hosts.
May would put the icing on the cake with three minutes remaining, crashing over next to the posts to give the Panthers a 28-14 victory in front of a good crowd at Pepper Stadium.
Penrith Panthers 28 (Watene-Zelezniak 2, Peachey, Edwards, May tries; Cleary 4/5 goals) def. Wests Tigers 14 (Nofoaluma 2, Brooks tries; Lolohea 1/3 goals)