In the feature match of round five in the 2017 domestic rugby league competition, Panthers showed signs of their dark horse status following a brilliant performance on Saturday at Victoria Park.
In a tit-for-tat opening half tussle, the Panthers led 18-14 after both teams exchanged tries in a fast and furious encounter.
In the second spell, the Eels took a brief lead before the Panthers bounced back to score a try and kicked two penalties to sail ahead on the score board.
But the Albert Nicholas-coached Eels kept on battling and a final surge for the try line saw them come close to equalizing. However, the side failed to nail the conversion from a tricky angle.
Eels led by skipper Sirla Pera combined well with his backline, powered by Lai Rororogoivalu, Tua Ravula., John Penu, Johnnie and Duane Gukisuva to heave pressure on the Panthers backline. The side seemed to have missed the services of speedster Samu Alafua who was absent from the lineup.
Hooker Bruce Goldsworthy was quick to set up play for veteran Clive Nicholas and brother Lui while rampaging Stanley Tuaivi ripped the Panthers defence line to shreds at several times in the match.
The Panthers were equally good. Despite a less favoured territorial advantage, the side made their chances count in both spells with some strong and determined play.
Led by captain Teina Savage, who made the most tackles for the side in the match, the Darren Piri-coached team played like men possessed in the crucial win.
Tries from Seruvi Ralulu Sr, Jamian Iroa, who also kicked four conversions and two penalties, Othaniel Joseph and Mott Saamu was enough to give Panthers the 28-26 win.
“We are happy with the win but there is still lots of work to be done especially in the defensive line when Avatiu with big guys like Stanley and them running with the ball. We got to tackle them, doesn’t matter if they are coming straight in us,” Panthers mentor Piri said.
“It was a good game and could have gone either way and Avatiu would have even drawn it if their kick went at. I think both teams played well so hats off to both sides.”
In the other premier league clashes over the weekend, Ngatangiia/Matavera Sea Eagles struggled in the 12-11 win over Takuvaine Warriors while Titikaveka Bulldogs defeated Arorangi Bears 36-16.
Despite the loss, the Eels maintain their lead on the point table.