The Panthers withstood a late comeback from the Dolphins to come away with a 24-14 win at Kayo Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
With halfback Nathan Cleary's comeback delayed another week and their Origin stars rested, the premiers dug deep after trailing by two points with 12 minutes to play.
It was Penrith's right edge which did majority of the damage, with Izack Tago and rookie winger Tom Jenkins combining superbly to walk away with a double each.
Penrith got on the board early when prop Moses Leota charged down a Sean O'Sullivan kick, regathered the ball and ran 40 metres to the line.
Cogger had an off afternoon with the boot, missing three conversions including this one from in front.
Leota charges down a kick and finishes it!
Eight minutes into the contest and Tago put his stamp on the match, running outside Dolphins defenders and busting four tackles to cross next to the posts.
Tago went back-to-back just eight minutes later, again linking up with Jenkins on the right to hand the visitors an eight-point lead.
Panthers humming as Tago gets another
Cogger's first-half went from bad to worse when he was sent to the bin for a professional foul in the 32nd minute.
The Dolphins capitalised almost immediately through fullback Kodi Nikorima, who danced his way across the line for his fourth try of the season to reduce the deficit to 12-4 at half-time.
Errors crept into the Panthers' game early in the second half, gifting several repeated sets in their own 20 and after holding the Dolphins out for 11 minutes the home side finally got a result thanks to a crafty kick and chase from Connelly Lemuelu.
Hit-man Kaufusi at it again
Wayne Bennett's side continued to mount pressure in the second half and thanks to another set restart with Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow crossing to the left of the posts.
Jamayne Isaako's conversion handed the Dolphins a two-point lead for the first time in the game.
Ivan Cleary's call to inject Panthers hooker Soni Luke onto the field with only 13 minutes to play made an immediate impact for the visitors and proved a turning point in the game.
He darted out of dummy-half to set up a right-side raid and Jenkins crossed to put the premiers back in front.
Dylan Edwards took over the kicking duties and slotted a crucial goal from the sideline to make it 18-14 before the game was put to bed in the 77th minute when Jenkins crossed for a double.
Match: Dolphins v Panthers
Round 20 -
Venue: Kayo Stadium, Redcliffe
- Panthers fill-in halfback Jack Cogger was sin binned in the 32nd minute for a professional foul, holding onto the legs of Dolphins forward Jarrod Wallace for too long.
- Wallace was placed on report earlier in the match for a shoulder charge.
- Penrith centre Izack Tago racked up his fourth double for the 2023 season with two impressive first-half tries.
- Panthers five-eighth Jarome Luai celebrated his 100th NRL game.
- Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has won seven of his past eight games against Wayne Bennett-coached teams.
- Panthers outside backs Izack Tago and Tom Jenkins had a day out on the right edge, with four tries and two try assists between them.
- Dolphins hooker Harrison Graham had another impressive performance at No. 9, replacing an injured Jeremy Marshall-King (shoulder). The 21-year-old made 50 tackles, with just two misses.
- The Dolphins have not won back-to-back games since the opening rounds of the season.
Play of the Game
Backing up from arguably a career-best performance in Round 18, Penrith centre Izack Tago continued his rich vein of form in Redcliffe. Just eight minutes into the match, the 21-year-old had his speed and strength on show at Redcliffe in a run which cost the Dolphins four missed tackle.
The spectacular four-pointer kicked off another impressive performance for the premiership winning centre, finish with two tries, one assist, 194 metres and seven tackle busts.
Tago beats the Hammer in a stunner
What They Said
"I'm not sure if it felt like one that slipped away. We played a quality team and we're 18 games into our life. These guys are back-to-back premiers and three-time grand finalists in the last three years and are leading the comp. We didn't play a team of mugs. I loved the way we came back and made a game of it. We're not at that level yet." - Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett.
"It wasn't a surprise they'd make us work for it, we knew that was the kind of game it was going to be. It wasn't our greatest performance but I thought we showed a lot of stuff we value. When we went behind after starting well and got to a bit of a lead they had a lot of possession... I thought from then on it was a really good win in the end for a young team and with inexperienced sides." - Panthers coach Ivan Cleary.
NRL Press Conference: Dolphins v Panthers - Round 20, 2023
The Dolphins enjoy a bye before meeting the Bulldogs in Bundaberg in Round 22.
Meanwhile, the Panthers will host the Bulldogs first next Sunday, enjoying a seven day turnaround. After being ruled out on game day to make his return from a hamstring injury, Nathan Cleary is all but certain to play in Round 21.