In a tit-for-tat battle at The Swamp, the Panthers defeated defending champions Avatiu Nikao Eels 23-18 to take the lead in the Rarotonga Club XVs competition.
The Bond Store match of the week lived up to all expectations with a tough battle as both teams ran onto the field undefeated.
The Panthers, as expected, got off to a flying start and after several attempts, managed to cross the whitewash to give them a 7-0 lead.
Winger Tyronne Marurai dived over for the opening try after picking up a perfect pass from a scintillating piece of play from the Panther backs.
Minutes later, the impressive Panthers forced the Eels into an infringement and gained a penalty which was beautifully converted by Jamain Iroa to extend their lead to 10-0.
Basic errors, including poor ball handling, marred the Eels efforts as the Panthers capitalised and managed to add another three points through Othniel Joseph followed by Iroa’s conversion to lead 16-0.
Eels then had a perfect opportunity to cushion the deficit but their penalty went wide.
After successive misses, Eels managed to get on board with a penalty kick but trailed 3-16 at the break.
The Panthers virtually stole the game from Eels midway through the second spell from a well-worked try from Jovilisi Naqitawa who raced home after snatching a superbly coordinated pop pass from Seruvi Ralulu Sr.
Eels slotted a penalty and scored two further tries to breech the deficit, but it was not enough and the Panthers walked away with a 23-18 win.
Panthers coach Andew Iroa was pleased with the performance from his side in their all-important match.
He was said he was “pretty stoked” with the performance of his forwards and hailed them for their effort in the match.
“They are the one who won the game for us. They were brilliant from the start,” Iroa said. “Before the game, I told the players that everything starts from the front and our forwards really worked on exactly what we wanted them to do.
“If it wasn’t for our forwards, we definitely wouldn’t have won this match.”
The Panthers were also impressive in the set piece play, dominating the scrums and lineouts.
They were brilliant in the breakdown and their smart play earned them penalties in the crucial times of the match.
The Panthers were also impressive with their boots with Rangi Piri, Joseph and Jamain giving them territorial advantage with some thumping kicks.
“It was also good to see the team trying new things that we worked on during training. It’s good to see everyone bringing their ideas and we work from there,” coach Iroa said.
Eels’ veteran Clive Nicholas hailed his players for the tough fight and rued basic errors, saying itcost them the match.
He pleaded with his players to turn up to training and work on their set pieces to ensure better performance in their upcoming matches.