After maintaining an unbeaten run in the preliminary rounds of the Rarotonga Club 15s competition, the Panthers clawed their way into the final beating arch-rivals Avatiu Nikao Eels 22-14 in the semi-final on Saturday.
Eels, however, still have a chance to redeem themselves and book a date with Panthers for the fourth time this season, in the final, when they take on Takuvaine Reds this Saturday.
Reds defeated Arorangi Cowboys 39-20 in the knockout semis at the Happy Valley on Saturday.
In The Bond Store match of the week, it was the Panthers who played their cards well to dispose the Eels for the third time this season at Victoria Park.
They took the lead through Jamian Iroa’s penalty early in the opening spell, followed by his second to race ahead 6-0.
The close tussle in the opening half saw the Panthers who seemed to dominate in possession, create some chances, but the tough Eels wall stood tall.
Eels also made some clean breaks but were unable to execute their runs.
The visitors must have breathed a sigh of relief after James Kiriau slotted a three-pointer followed by his second, to level the score at 6-all.
The home side were rattled with the sin-binning of Seruvi Ralulu Sr just before the break but the Eels were unable to capitalise on the advantage as both teams went into the break tied 6-all.
The Tua Ravula-skippered Eels took the lead for the first time in the match through a penalty in the second spell, but that was soon cancelled by national rep Iroa, who minutes later guided his fourth kick in between the post to regain their lead 12-9.
Eels tried to gain territory but lost momentum after Sirla Pera was yellow-carded.
Capitalising on the one man advantage, the Panthers worked their strategy well and after a brilliant piece of play, KC Kora dived over for the first try of the match to give them 19-9 lead.
Sensing defeat, the desperate Eels put their bodies on the line and after a determined push, helped Kiriau bulldoze his way over the line to cushion the deficit.
Hero Kiriau turned villain after missing an easy conversion as the Eels trailed 14-19 heading into the final quarter of the match.
The cool, calm and collected Panthers held onto their nerves in the last 10 minutes of the play despite the pressure from the Eels and were rewarded accordingly after Iroa extended their lead from a drop goal.
Eels kept fighting but in a haste, committed some silly errors as the Panthers held on to claim the 22-14 win and their spot in the showdown next week.
Meanwhile in the knockout semis, former champions Reds ensured they remain in the hunt for the title after a dominant backline display to run away with 39-20 win.
Reds took a slender 15-13 lead at the break.
The Reds scored through Vaa Maliko (3), Eddie Marama and Tevita Niusama. Fullback Viiga Ruepena kicked four conversions and two penalties.
For the Cowboys, Robert Heather and Sione Faametau crossed the whitewash and Stephen Willis converted their tries and kicked two penalties.