Former Canberra star Adrian Purtell has scored the clincher as Penrith withstood a spirited second half fight-back from the Raiders to start their NRL season with a 34-16 victory at Penrith Stadium.
The Panthers should have had the match in the bag after they led 22-0 at half-time, but the Raiders threatened to turn the tables with the first three tries of the second half to trail 22-16 after 58 minutes.
But ex-Raider Purtell, released from a long-term deal at Canberra to join the Panthers this year, intercepted a Terry Campese pass and ran the length of the field to make the score 26-16.
Purtell might have doubled the blow but was controversially disallowed a second four-pointer in the 71st minute, judged to have been held up after video angles proved inconclusive.
Purtell was pleased to get one over his old club in his first NRL match for the Panthers.
“It felt very rewarding but I guess against any team when the game’s in the balance, if I scored a 100-metre try I’d be very happy with it,” he said.
“Hopefully there’s not too many of them, hopefully next time I’m only 20 out when I get that, not 100.”
Panthers coach Matt Elliott was also relieved after a pleasing first half.
“I was pretty happy that Purts took that intercept, I can tell you,” he said.
“We were probably a little unlucky to have the amount of possession against us in the second half and we were probably a little lucky to get that intercept, so it was a bit of a balancing act.”
Panthers full-back Lachlan Coote added to the visitors’ misery and the joy of the crowd of 11,133, with a classy 75th-minute try.
A flurry of penalties and cheap possession in Penrith’s 22 had the Raiders believing they could get out of jail early in the second half.
Panthers winger Shane Elford was penalised in possession near his own line in the 44th minute and big Canberra prop Scott Logan barged over a minute later.
Winger Daniel Vidot crossed out wide just four minutes later before centre Joel Thompson forced his way over in the 58th.
Earlier, recruit Kevin Kingston, rampaging forward Frank Pritchard and smart half Luke Walsh had destroyed the error-prone Raiders in the first half.
The home side scored four tries in the first 40, through Elford, Luke Lewis, Kingston and Coote to hand the Raiders a massive task for the second half.
Canberra coach David Furner lamented a woeful first half.
“I thought our second half, especially that first 20 minutes, was what we’d planned to do in our first half,” he said.
Canberra forward Josh Miller suffered a shoulder injury and will have scans on Monday.
Panthers: 34 (L Coote 2, S Elford, K Kingston, L Lewis, A Purtell tries; M Gordon 5 goals)
Raiders: 16 (S Logan, J Thompson, D Vidot tries; T Campese 2 goals)