Panthers pounce with thrilling win By T.Smith

James Baxendale landed a captain's knock penalty goal to allow the Hornby Panthers to win a record 27th Canterbury rugby league premiership after another pulsating extra-time final at Rugby Park this afternoon.

The Panthers won a see-saw struggle 22-20 before about 2500 passionate supporters in the first game of rugby league to be played at Rugby Park.Extra time was required for the second consecutive season to separate Hornby and Halswell.

Two five-minute periods of extra time were needed today with Baxendale slotting the winning penalty goal in the dying seconds of the second stanza to break the deadlock.

"I was a nervous wreck [lining up that last kick],'' Baxendale said after collecting the Pat Smith Memorial Trophy.

"I had so many opportunities to win the game, I just had to deliver [with the final penalty].''Few fans would argue with Hornby veteran Donny Aitken, who celebrated his seventh grand final victory in eight appearances since 1996. 

"It was a bit of a shame someone had to lose out there today; it was so close.

''The first half was a cat-and-mouse affair with Baxendale and Hornby kicker Daniel Ball trading penalty goals for a 2-2 stalemate at halftime.

Hornby surged ahead 10-2 going into the final quarter with two tries to teenage right wing Cody Te Awa. But the Hornets, led by workaholic loose forward Jordan Kane, found an extra gear.  

Impact player Ross Martin crashed over for a try and wing Sam Kelso pounced after opposite Callum Lawrie fumbled a kick in the in-goal area. Ball's conversion gave Halswell a 14-10 lead but Lawrie atoned with a last-gasp equalising try for Hornby. 

Baxendale couldn't convert from the sideline so the game went into extra-time.

Halswell looked to grab another edge when Rowan Swain scored in the first half of the initial extra-time period to establish a 20-14 lead. But Ball missed a kickable penalty which would have given the Hornets an eight-point buffer.

The Panthers - with man of the match prop Rulon Nutira particularly prominent - swept back and, with 80 seconds remaining, Baxendale barged over for a try near the posts and coolly converted.

Baxendale, Ball and Halswell skipper Toi Sepuloni were all astray with field goal attempts in extra time, Sepuloni missing a particularly handy chance. 

The match was always going to turn on an error or a referee's call and Baxendale blocked out chants of "he's not going to get it'' from the Halswell fans to kick the vital goal to spark a chorus of "Proud to be a Panther'' from the Hornby faithful. 

The victory was Hornby's 15th grand final triumph in 22 appearances since the sudden-death decider was introduced in 1967.

Scorers: Hornby Panthers 22 (Cody Te Awa 2, Callum Lawrie, James Baxendale tries; Baxendale 3 goals)  beat Halswell Hornets 20 (Ross Martin, Sam Kelso, Rowan Swain tries; Daniel Ball 4 goals). (After 2 periods of extra-time). HT: 2-2. FT (80 minutes): 14-14. Extra-Time (first period): 20-20. Referee: Steve Toms. RTJ: Gary Smallridge.




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