Viliame Kikau's season appeared in doubt early but the Fijian international returned from a shoulder injury in the second half to score a barnstorming try, propelling Penrith to a stunning 20-14 win over the Roosters at Panthers Stadium on Saturday night.
On a night both clubs were blooding new halves pairings following the departures of Cooper Cronk (retirement) and James Maloney (Super League) in the off-season, it was Nathan Cleary who stood tall to provide the ball for Kikau with scores locked at 14-14 late in the game.
The Panthers looked off the pace early but came to life on the back of Api Koroisau in the second half.
Koroisau's return to Penrith hit a hurdle early when he kicked the ball out on the full from the kick-off while Kikau left the field before the break complaining he heard a crack in his shoulder.
But the pair’s second-half performance and composure from Ivan Cleary’s men was far more impressive than the Roosters.
Match: Panthers v Roosters
Round 1 -
Venue: Panthers Stadium, Penrith
The premiers, who were missing skipper Boyd Cordner and Angus Crichton for the clash, went on a trademark roll early and skipped to a 12-0 lead but lost their way for the remainder of the game.
A freak try from Stephen Crichton, who was on the paddock in a strategic change at fullback for Ivan Cleary, levelled the scores at 14-14 with 18 minutes remaining when he finished off a Josh Mansour effort on the left edge.
That set the stage for Kikau whose match-winner condemned the Roosters to their third round one loss in three years.
Kikau monsters his way over to give Penrith the lead
Earlier, it was the Roosters who struck first when Mitch Aubusson pounced on a Kyle Flanagan kick that was split by Mansour in the air.
The Tricolours extended their lead inside 20 minutes through Siosiua Taukeiaho as the Panthers struggled with the speed of the game while coughing up handling errors in the middle of the field.
Roosters co-captain Jake Friend took advantage of a fast play-the-ball close to the line to provide a deft kick for Taukeiaho with Panthers rookie Caleb Aekins caught out of position on the final tackle.
Penrith's poor start looked to cause further pain but a forward pass from James Tedesco killed off a right-edge raid.
Tedesco was then guilty of being up in the line himself when Jarome Luai grubbered a ball behind for Brent Naden to collect and stroll over untouched.
The Panthers knocked back a chance to take two points before halftime at 12-6 but accepted the next opportunity to reduce the lead to four.
The Roosters lost Matt Ikuvalu (head knock) and Sitili Tupouniua (leg) in the second half but both are expected to be fine for round two.
Mansour kicks in field for Crichton to score with his first touch