NRL: Cronulla Sharks overcome 14-point deficit to beat Penrith Panthers

Penrith's sorry start to the season has sunk to a new low after giving up a 14-0 lead in a demoralising four-point loss to Cronulla.             

The Panthers looked in control on Thursday until Bronson Xerri lit up PointsBet Stadium with a 65-metre run for the home side's first points in the 49th minute.     

The rookie's first career four-pointer kickstarted a four-try blitz in 26 minutes, including a penalty try to Chad Townsend, to claim a stirring 24-20 victory.      

Briton Nikora, who overcame what looked like a serious hip injury in the first half, broke through the middle before chipping ahead for Townsend.  

The Sharks halfback was brought down by Malakai Watene-Zelezniak at the tryline, allowing the home side to cut the deficit to eight points with 16 minutes to go.      

That lead was reduced again when Andrew Fifita stormed over from close range before Josh Dugan scored the matchwinner.   

The defeat is the Panthers' fourth in their opening six games and leaves returning coach Ivan Cleary under mounting pressure early in the season.     

In contrast, the win for the Sharks arrests their own slow start to the year and comes despite missing five first-choice players from their line-up.          

Winger Sione Katoa was a late withdrawal, handing 21-year-old William Kennedy his debut at fullback with Dugan moving to the wing.            

The signs were positive early for the Panthers, with Maloney putting Tim Grant through for first points and then grubbering for Nathan Cleary soon after.    

Despite being aided by a fierce southerly, Penrith were only able to muster a 14-0 lead at the break.     

And while Waqa Blake responded to Xerri's try early in the second half, it failed to prevent the Sharks from storming home to steal a stirring victory.