Penrith has won nine straight NRL games for the first time after overcoming the gritty Warriors 18-12.
In miserable conditions in Gosford on Friday evening, the Warriors were valiant as the Panthers charged back to the top of the ladder in the midst of a milestone-making season.
On what should have been a special night to celebrate club history, the match was soured by reports of racial abuse directed at Penrith winger Brent Naden.
A group of about eight men in their early 20s were evicted from the ground by police towards the end of the first half after Naden reported the abuse to the Panthers trainer.
It’s understood Naden reported the abuse to the Penrith trainer who took action to have the group removed from the ground.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said he was proud of Naden for standing up for himself and reporting the abuse.
“He’s OK; he said that it’s not the first time he’s heard that in his life but in this forum it has been, so he’s a little bit … he certainly took offence to it at the time but he’s OK,” Cleary said.
“It’s one of those situations where you can only react how you feel at the time.
“Whatever was said, and I don’t know exactly what was said, it definitely affected him and by the sounds of it the appropriate action was taken and what happens from here I’m not too sure.”
In the past the NRL issued bans for those found to have racially abused players and in a statement issued on Friday night, the governing body once again promised to take the strongest possible action.
On the field, Panthers half-back Nathan Cleary carried on with his supreme form and set up the first try of the night with a floating ball out to Naden 10 minutes in.
Two more tries to Api Koroisau and Dylan Edwards gave the Panthers a 16-0 lead just before half-time when the Warriors finally struck back through Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Despite the streaming rain, half-back Chanel Harris-Tevita showed his class with a slick kick for the skipper to collect and score under the posts to narrow the deficit to 10 at the break.
Skint on possession, the Warriors had absorbed immense pressure with six forced dropouts in the first half and clawed their way back into the match on sheer grit in the final 40 minutes.
Panthers’ only points in the second half came through a penalty goal from Cleary as the Warriors turned the screws on the competition leaders.
Showing incredible patience, Kodi Nikorima steered the home side around the park and set up their second try, spotting space for Peta Hiku to tap a pass out to Patrick Herbert to score.
The looked likely until the final minute but the Panthers held on.
After two straight wins, the Warriors again made a decent account of themselves in defeat but remain 11th on the ladder with six games to play.
Remarkably, the Panthers now have not conceded a point in the first 20 minutes for their past 13 games. It’s the longest streak in the NRL since records were kept in 1980.
Dragons farewell McGregor in style
St George Illawarra have saved their biggest scalp of the NRL season for Paul McGregor’s farewell party, shocking Parramatta 14-12.
In McGregor’s final game in charge, the Dragons were dogged and desperate in one of their best 80-minute performances of the year.
It was the kind of win that would have left McGregor wondering where it had been for the past 18 months, before pressure and selection panels forced him to walk.
He watched on from the sideline in the rain on Friday night with the headphones on, while Dean Young occupied the coaches box.
McGregor had his supporters too, with seven Dragons fans chanting “we want Mary” long after full time and the club’s fifth win of the year.
Mikaele Ravalawa scored a double, fellow winger Jordan Pereira produced 16 tackle busts and Blake Lawrie was dominant up front, totalling 189 metres.
It marked just the third loss of the year for Parramatta. The Eels are third on the ladder but missed a golden opportunity to go four points clear of the Sydney Roosters.
With their finals hopes all but gone and after the week they’d had, the Dragons had every right to fall out of the fight several times against the Eels.
But every time they were challenged, the Dragons found an answer on a memorable night for the club.