[Source: NRL News]
The Penrith Panthers have defied the early loss of halfback Nathan Cleary to hold on and defeat a spirited St George Illawarra Dragons side 26-18 to close out Round 14.
Cleary was forced from the field in the 16th minute after clutching at his hamstring after trying to make a tackle.
While he will need to have scans to confirm the scale of the injury, it could have huge ramifications for the Panthers and for the NSW Blues with Origin II only 17 days away.
In the match, it was yet another close loss for the Dragons who pushed the Panthers all the way in what was overall an entertaining, if somewhat clunky match, with errors and penalties marring the flow of the game.
The Dragons were the first team on the board when Zac Lomax slotted a penalty goal with eight minutes gone after Cleary was ruled to have obstructed the defenders when Brian To’o was attempting to bring the ball back for the Panthers.
However, their lead was short-lived, with the Panthers then turning on their attack, capitalising on a penalty of their own to charge up the field, thanks mostly to a hard carry from Moses Leota, before a nice Cleary pass out wide found an unmarked To’o to go over untouched.
Mikaele Ravalawa scored the first of the tries for the Dragons and his first of two for the night to put his side back in the contest.
He scored his second with four minutes remaining in the half to put the Dragons in front, but the Panthers showed their class to ensure they didn’t go to the sheds behind, with To’o going over for his second in the dying seconds of the half.
The try came after the Panthers won a scrum with 35 seconds to go, moving upfield for Jack Cogger – who had been subbed on for Cleary – to put in a pinpoint kick, finding his man out wide, with Stephen Crichton landing the conversion for a 12-12 scoreline.
In an end-to-end game, Dragons captain Ben Hunt was one of the best on field for his team, backing up his 50-plus minutes in Queensland’s Origin win with a whole-hearted performance which kept his side in the game throughout.
The second half was just as close with the Dragons fighting hard and again drawing scores level 18-18 with 13 minutes to play.
However, the Panthers – despite being scrappy at times – never panicked and again were able to pull a win from the fire, with skipper Isaah Yeo producing a huge play, producing an offload to his forward Leota who was able to go over and score the match-winner with 10 minutes to play.
The Dragons – who lost forward Jack de Belin to a head knock in the second half – had a try disallowed late in the second half for an obstruction to put to bed their resistance.