Nathan Cleary has backed up from his NSW debut to be the hero for Penrith, slotting a final-minute field goal as the Panthers snatched a 23-22 victory over Canberra.
With four stars backing up from State of Origin game one in Melbourne two days earlier, the ladder leaders overcame a 10-point deficit with 17 minutes left to win their 10th game of the NRL season on Friday night.
Another NSW ace, Tyrone Peachey, had a major influence on the GIO Stadium result with a try double and a key role in the Panthers’ third four-pointer to Dean Whare.
James Maloney converted Whare’s effort to make it 22-all five minutes from time before Cleary broke the Raiders’ hearts.
Penrith shot out to an early eight-point lead before the Raiders got back level by half-time.
But they couldn’t capitalise on being a man up when when forward Kaide Ellis was sin-binned for the second time in his three-game Panthers career late in the first half.
Panthers coach Anthony Griffin hailed it a “tough win” but said his NSW players were never likely not to play.
“We weren’t at our best tonight but our last 15 minutes, I was really proud of them with how they came back and pulled it out of the fire,” he said.
“(The Origin players) were good and they wanted to play. They came back yesterday and were all clear so it was a good sign for them.”
The Raiders seemed to be running over the top of the visitors, with Elliot Whitehead crossing in the corner to see them go up 20-10.
However they were hurt by injury.
Joseph Leilua failed a head injury assessment from a hit 90 seconds into the match, while New Zealand international Jordan Rapana succumbed to a hamstring problem after an error-riddled but lively performance that included a try.
Forward Josh Papalii was easily best on field for the Raiders after stepping out for Queensland at the MCG.
Coach Ricky Stuart praised his side despite the loss, pointing to the fact the Panthers had kept their opposition tryless in their previous two matches.
“We shouldn’t have been even in the game with the statistics,” Stuart said.
“That was such a tough performance and I was so proud of the performance.”
The Panthers’ only concern was a knee injury to Viliame Kikau, with Griffin saying the 23-year-old could miss up to six weeks.