The Penrith Panthers have snatched a thrilling 19-18 Golden Point victory in today’s Jersey Flegg Cup Grand Final at CommBank Stadium.
Trailing by two converted tries in the final 10 minutes of regular time, the Panthers sensationally levelled the scores before claiming the Premiership after more than 80 minutes of play.
Panthers captain Hophepa Puru, who was named Player of the Match, said it simply came down to the attitude of the mountain men when asked how they had managed to turn things around after their 22-16 defeat against the Knights in the Qualifying Final.
“It’s not gonna be fun playing finals footy,” Puru said.
“It’s a very gritty game, so we dug deep and got the rewards.
“We stuck in well, held well, we didn’t start the way we wanted to, but we stayed in there and got the treats at the end.”
The early exchanges were end-to-end with both sides coming up short of tries in opposite corners of the field – Penrith stepping on the sideline then Newcastle being driven into touch. But the Panthers gathered momentum in the ensuing set to find themselves back on the attack.
In the 12th minute Penrith broke the deadlock, after the Knights failed to clean-up a last-tackle kick in the in-goal area before winger Daeon Amituanai dived onto the ball to score. Five-eighth Niwhai Puru converted for the 6-0 lead.
At that point Newcastle were looking for a moment of brilliance to get back into the contest, and a short time later it was captain Thomas Cant who provided it for the Knights.
From the middle of the park the back-rower threw a dummy to bust through the first line of defence and dummied again for a try down the left channel. He converted his own four-pointer to even the ledger.
There was plenty of feeling in the match for the rest of the first half with the two teams making solid contact in defence. A few more point-scoring opportunities also came about through several half-breaks and second-phase play, but the scoreboard remained 6-all at the main break.
Coming out of the sheds it was anyone’s guess which side would hit the lead if the first half was any indication. Yet in very similar fashion to their try in the opening half, the Novocastrians found themselves in front for the first time in the match at the 47-minute mark.
Around the halfway line, Cant burst into space and found ever-present fullback Fletcher Sharpe in support, who strolled beneath the posts to score. Cant had no problems adding the extras for a 12-6 advantage.
Penrith had to be next team to score and while they had their chances, they were unable to convert them. The first ended with the Panthers being held up over the line after a break, while second resulted in a knock-on in the act of scoring.
The Knights withstood the attacking flurry from their opposition, however, powered back upfield to within 10 metres of the try-line. Then in the 58th minutes five-eighth Kurt Donohugh took on the defence for a try of his own.
With six minutes to go and facing a 12-point deficit, the Panthers pegged one back after Mavrik Geyer charged onto crash ball for a four-pointer beside the upright. Puru slotted the extra two points to bring the margin back to six.
With just over a minute remaining the Panthers were suddenly in open pasture again through Geyer, who was stopped after opting for the dummy. But within a few tackles Penrith shifted wide for Sam Lane to score with Puru’s conversion sending the match into extra time at 18-all.
Under the extra time rules each side had a mindset to look for the go-ahead try, with surprisingly expansive ball movement. Seconds before the end of the first five-minute period the Knights attempted an offload from their own half to give the Panthers a shot at one point, but Isaiya Katoa’s first attempt was waved away.
Five minutes later extra time couldn’t separate the two teams as they moved on to golden point.
The Knights appeared to finish their first set in strong field position, but a remarkable return from Panthers fullback Liam Ison saw him evade a handful of defenders before being tackled just shy of halfway.
They pushed further into field goal range before Katoa, who will head to NRL expansion team the Dolphins next season, gave the club a parting gift after nailing the match-winning point to secure the 2022 Jersey Flegg Cup.