Penrith rookie sparks NRL win over Dragons

Matt Encarnacion
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NRL DRAGONS PANTHERS

Penrith have produced a late comeback to beat St George Illawarra 32-28 in a 10-try NRL thriller

Penrith rookie Stephen Crichton was the hero for the second week in a row after sparking the Panthers to a 10-try thriller over St George Illawarra.

In front of an empty Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Crichton was again injected off the bench at fullback midway through the second half on Friday night.

And, like he did six days ago against the Sydney Roosters, the 19-year-old came up with the clutch play in the 32-28 victory.

He cut through the Dragons defence off a Nathan Cleary pass, found support in Liam Martin, before backing him up again to finish off the 70-metre movement.

"We're happy to have him. It's just finding a spot for him," Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said of Crichton.

"It's been a good couple of weeks for him to come on and he's actually added something, which we'd hoped he'd do. He did it again tonight."

Nathan Cleary, who scored a try and had a hand in two others, sealed the victory with a penalty goal in the dying moments.

It was a deflating loss for the Dragons, who appeared to had sewn up the win when Corey Norman try gave the hosts a 10-point lead with 16 minutes to go.

But a Viliame Kikau four-pointer gave the visitors some hope, which turned into elation when Crichton provided his heroics.

Penrith had seemingly picked up from where they left after last week's upset of the reigning premiers, racing in the first two tries inside 15 minutes.

Apisai Koroisau burrowed under James Graham in the 10th minute.

And Nathan Cleary built on the start when he breezed past some flimsy defence soon after.

His try took him past Preston Campbell (609 points) into fourth on the all-time pointscorers list at the club, and it appeared a rout was on.

But a 21st-minute drinks break proved the turning point, with the Dragons pouring on the next three tries in a whirlwind 13-minute span.

It began with a 90-metre intercept Matt Dufty try, which was followed by another long-range effort to Brayden Wiliame down the left edge.

An aimless Josh Mansour offload allowed Zac Lomax to give the Dragons a four-point halftime lead, which could've been more if not for a Wiliame forward pass.

The second half began as an arm-wrestle but the Panthers regained the ascendancy when Brent Naden was rewarded for his hustle in the 52nd minute.

Dufty responded when he ducked over from close range for his second try eight minutes later, followed by Norman's touchdown.

The official crowd was 231, with supporters locked out due to the coronavirus.

Dragons coach Paul McGregor was left a frustrated figure after they also blew a number of try-scoring opportunities in a close loss to the Wests Tigers last week.

"We've been in position both times to win. That's the disappointing thing," he said.

"For me, there was a lot of positives in it. When you score 28 points, you should win. Defence is an issue, letting in 32."