Penrith Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary

The Penrith Panthers have staged a late comeback to condemn the Dragons to their second home loss to start the season.

The Dragons led the see-sawing affair 28-18 with just twelve minutes remaining before a four-minute flurry from Penrith saw the Saints’ lead evaporate.

The Panthers exploded out of the gates to lead by twelve after just fifteen minutes courtesy of a dummy-half scoot from Api Koroisau to start.

This was followed by a sweet Nathan Cleary show-and-go that left Ben Hunt and Tyrell Fuimaono clutching for air.

Led by new recruit Zane Tetevano, the Penrith forward pack simply poured through the middle third, doubling the Dragons’ run metres over the first twenty minutes.

Players were given some relief from the oppressive conditions with a drinks break after twenty minutes.

Little seemed to change for the Dragons as Isaah Yeo split the defence before passing inside to an unmarked Dean Whare.

However, in a game-changing moment, the pass was sensationally intercepted by Matt Dufty who raced away to score a ninety-metre effort and complete a twelve-point swing in his fiftieth NRL appearance.

Seemingly inspired by Dufty’s antics, the Dragons further turned the momentum through a beautiful cutout pass from Corey Norman.

He made up for his earlier defensive deficiencies by sending Jordan Pereira down the sideline to set up a try for Brayden Wiliame.

Zac Lomax was the next to cross, capitalising upon an errant offload from Josh Mansour to give the Dragons a 16-12 half time lead, despite having just 40% possession.

After the break, a deft grubber from Nathan Cleary appeared to regain control of the game for Penrith through a Brent Naden try.

However, following his relegation from the squad last week, Matt Dufty again provided the spark the Dragons needed as he crashed over from short range.

When Corey Norman dived on Ben Hunt’s banana kick four minutes later, the Dragons looked to have the match on ice with less than twenty minutes to go.

In keeping with the volatile nature of the match, it wasn’t long until the momentum swung one final time.

Viliame Kikau ran over Issac Luke off the back of a hail-mary offload from Josh Mansour.

It was then up to the man with the magic touch, Stephen Crichton, to ice the match.

After scoring within seventeen seconds of entering the field last week, Crichton raced onto an inside ball from Nathan Cleary before combining with Liam Martin for the game winner.

Speaking post-game, Dragons coach Paul McGregor condemned his side’s discipline, agreeing that the Dragons gave away a golden opportunity to post their first win of the season.

“We had complete control with 16 mins to go… it’s not good enough,” McGregor said.

“Last week, we had three opportunities with the line open that we didn’t finish and today we led at halftime… we’re making it hard (for ourselves).”

In comparison, Ivan Cleary admitted his team were well below par tonight, but will happily accept another tight win to start the year.

“I was worried the whole second half… we just didn’t have the edge we needed to have… but you’ve just got to find a way to win those sorts of games, especially early in the season” he said.

Penrith will advance to play Melbourne at AAMI Park next week, while the Dragons will head South to the nation’s capital in search of their first victory of the season.

NRL News Player of the Game:

3 Points – Nathan Cleary – The Panthers’ half was simply superb, steering his side around shrewdly for the second week running. Chimed in for a try, try assist, line break and line break assist.

2 Points – Apisai Koroisau – Quickly putting his hand up as an early contender for buy of the year as he crossed for a try and made 38 tackles.

1 Point – Matt Dufty – Lost his fullback spot to Zac Lomax over the off-season but did his future selection chances no harm tonight as he crossed twice and seemed to be the Dragons’ enigma, bringing them to life twice when hope appeared lost.

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