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Panthers hang on by the skin of their teeth in wild west thriller

The western Sydney derby was all it was hyped up to be, and then some.

Penrith was looking to secure its place in the top two, while Parramatta was looking to break in.

Both sides had to work their way into the contest, and after 20 minutes of back and forth, Maika Sivo ripped off the shackles.

The benefactor of a pressuring Mitch Moses kick, and a Clint Gutherson overhead pass, Sivo scrapped and willed his way to the left corner on all fours, evading three Penrith defenders in the process.

From there, Parramatta was in control, hounding the Panthers’ line until a Brent Naden intercept tore the momentum from their clutches.

Minutes later, Tyrone May zeroed in on the in-goal, and Penrith took a 6-4 lead.

It was a testament to their prowess.

The Eels owned the half for the most part, but the Panthers fought hard to stay within touch, and when their opportunity came, they grabbed it with both hands.

Unfortunately for Penrith, an early second half error would unravel that hard work.

Moses’ kicking game had haunted fullback Charlie Staines all night, and as his high bomb grazed the Penrith clouds, a spooked Staines froze in terror.

His fateful decision to let the Steeden bounce amidst a wave of blue and gold runners proved costly as Isaiah Papli’i stole it from his grasp, and forced his way home under the posts.

Not a side to sit idle, the Panthers got to work recovering, and ultimately struck back through Apisai Koroisau.

Koroisau skipped past Shaun Lane a little too easily and gunned to the line, putting Penrith ahead by two.

But their lead would be short-lived.

An illegal strip ruling dealt the Panthers a double blow, as they wasted their Captain’s Challenge before Moses coolly converted the penalty goal to level things up.

The 12-12 scoreline that ensued would bind the sides for the following 20 minutes, as Golden Point loomed.

And with three and a half minutes on the clock, Penrith blinked first, Matt Burton lining up a field goal attempt that shattered into the woodwork.

Moses didn’t waste time replying, sweetly striking an audacious attempt from 55 metres that skewed left.

A minute and a half now remained, and Burton rose to the occasion, his drop-kick piercing the uprights to gift his side a one-point advantage.

With the stands ghostly empty as a result of New South Wales’ lockdown, Burton’s joyous and relieved cheer echoed throughout BlueBet Stadium.

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The Panthers were home and hosed for all money, but this blockbuster wasn’t done dishing up surprises.

Desperate for a miracle, Parramatta’s prayers were answered when Waqa Blake was obstructed by Liam Martin in pursuit of the short kick-off.

The referee’s whistle was a brutal blow to Panthers far and wide, culling their celebrations.

As the clock wound down, every player was reduced to a spectator, except one Mitch Moses.

And with the weight of the match coursing through his muscles, his 31-metre kick drifted left, missing by a matter of centimetres.

Eels hearts shattered, while Panthers hearts broken just seconds ago mended.

They had survived the ultimate scare, and all without Nathan Cleary.



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