But storms don’t last forever and Avatiu Nikao Eels showed that when they finally beat them this season to retain the domestic rugby union competition title on Saturday at The Swamp.
The Panthers, who entered the showdown without a loss, including three wins against the Eels, were unfortunate to lose the big one.
They played well, dominated possession and held the territorial advantage but were unable to control the factor that matters the most – the scoreboard.
A lacklustre start by the Panthers saw the Eels backline power through against the run of play to heave early pressure on them.
In the ninth minute of the play, the Eels backs weaved their magic from a scrum 60 metres out after speedy winger Samu Alafua smartly beat his marker with his traditional sidestep, and outran the cover defence to place the ball under the posts.
The try was converted by first five eighth Leki Vahefoou, and the Eels went ahead 7-0.
The trailing Panthers got their act together and after gaining some ground, the side camped in the Eels’ 22 metre zone for over 10 minutes, keeping the opposing defenders busy.
The home team defended relentlessly and despite being under pressure, the Eels maintained their cool at the breakdown to come out unscathed.
The visitors had some opportunities but poor execution ruined the chances they created.
Eels maintained the slender 7-0 lead at the break.
The hardworking Eels forwards, anchored by Cook Islands tighthead prop Alex Matapo and complemented by hard working loose forward Lee Ponini and lock Tokerau Raru, added to the Panthers’ misery in the second half with some powerful drives to keep them at bay.
An infringement by the Panthers allowed Vahefoou to add to his tally with a booming 35 metre penalty goal to extend Eels lead to 10-0.
The Panthers, who made some questionable changes to their lineup, couldn’t get their structure right despite maintaining their hold on possession and territory.
They were also let down by a controversial decision when their right winger Kave Mocedike knocked the ball on while following through his chip and chase effort.
Panthers’ fans claimed Mocedike was tackled early when he dived for possession, just a metre away from the try line.
Despite that, the Andrew Iroa-coached side kept barging through the Eels’ wall, but some heroic efforts, led by veteran players Billy Tuaivi and Clive Nicholas saw them maintain the lead.
Again against the run of play, powerful midfielder Tua Ravula made a timely intercept and ran 50 metres to score Eels’ second try to extend their lead to 15-0.
Panthers regrouped and continued their attack, scoring through prop KC Kora to cushion the deficit to 5-15 but ran out of time to do further damage.
Despite the loss, the Panthers played an outstanding game especially from the likes of prop Davey Mato, lock James Kora and number eight Thomas Toa and flanker Filipo Schmidt.
For Eels, Tokerau Raru, Lee Ponini, Lai Rogorogoivalu and their leadership group of Clive and Tuaivi prove the winning factor.
Meanwhile in the under-19 final, Arorangi Cowboys defeated the Eels 18-10 in a tense affair.