CRONULLA'S high-profile recruit Todd Carney was party pooper - rather than party boy - at Penrith last night when his 40-metre field goal provided the Sharks with a hard-fought win and destroyed the celebrations for local hero Luke Lewis in his 200th first grade game.
The Sharks needed something special to secure the victory after they led most of the first half 12-0 courtesy of tries to Jayson Bukuya and Wade Graham, but a determined Panthers clawed their way back to lead 14-12 before a penalty, dubbed contentious by Lewis, nine minutes before full-time allowed them to draw level.
Carney struck in the 74th minute when he calmly booted the field goal, and while his teammates, including veteran centre Colin Best, used it as an example of the ''polish'' the 2010 Dally M medallist had brought to the club, the man himself described the match-winner as a ''fluke''.
''The opportunity came up, I instantly took it and it went over luckily enough,'' he said.
While Carney was praised for the direction he provided his team with a great kicking game and some try-saving defence last night, he stressed there was room for improvement. ''The biggest problem for me at the moment is our attack is not where it's going to be. I'm confident it's going to get better … it's good that we're winning when we're not at our best yet.''
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan conceded despite a strong opening the victory was not the team's best performance. However, after seeing his side lose similar games, he was delighted to think the team is learning to win ''ugly''.
''In previous years we wouldn't have won that game, so I was really happy we hung in and had the skill and the 'face' that we could get away with it,'' he said. ''Last week, to come home against the Cowboys and hang in tonight, and not play really well it's putting us in a good position.''
It was a heart-stopping win. Lewis has never said die in any game he has played for Penrith and last night his teammates followed his lead to challenge a Sharks outfit that threatened to run riot after the first half.
A try three minutes before half-time by rookie Blake Austin, who has been compared to Lewis, kept his team in the hunt. It was followed up after the break with tries to Michael Jennings after he seized upon a Lewis pass and one to fullback Lachlan Coote.
Cruelly, Lewis was penalised in the 71st minute after a tackle on rival skipper Paul Gallen, gifting Carney two points to lock up the scores.
''I thought it was a gee-up, to tell you the truth,'' said Lewis of the call. ''I made a tackle over the top and underneath they're holding your arms in … everyone does it … the ref knew he was doing it, I was telling him all day 'they're holding us in', but at the end of the day I should've tried to get out of there better. I can't use that as an excuse.''
Two minutes after Carney's one-pointer, Panthers five-eighth Travis Burns attempted to kick a field goal to level the scores. The ball went wide and for a split second it seemed winger David Simmons might have won the race for the ball - and the game - but he was ruled offside.
CRONULLA 15 (J Bukuya W Graham tries T Carney 3 goals T Carney field goal) bt PENRITH 14 (B Austin L Coote M Jennings tries L Walsh goal) at Centrebet Stadium. Referee: Henry Perenara, Ashley Klein. Crowd: 13,920.