Panthers claim top spot on NRL ladder
The Panthers stunned the high-flying Dragons 28-2 in front of a sold-out Panthers Stadium on Saturday night.
The comprehensive victory, sealed by tries to Nathan Cleary, Christian Crichton, Viliame Kikau and Reagan Campbell-Gillard, sees the Panthers move to the top of the Telstra Premiership ladder.
The Dragons caught the Panthers short of numbers and looked to open the scoring in the 3rd minute with a backline shift, but Nene Macdonald was unable to hold onto Tim Lafai's flicked offload.
Isaah Yeo latched onto a James Maloney short ball to slip through the Dragons defence inside the red zone twice in the opening 10 minutes, but the second rower was desperately cut down on both occasions.
The Panthers found themselves pinned deep inside their own half for an extended period as the Dragons set camp on the opposition try line, but some strong goal line defence saw the visitors remain scoreless after 20 minutes.
Yeo continued to menace the Dragons goal line defence with a dangerous dart from dummy half in the 23rd minute, but was again pulled up short. However, the Panthers still opened the scoring as James Maloney booted a penalty goal.
The Dragons were inches away from scoring the opener in the 33rd minute when the ball was spread to an unmarked Jason Nightingale, but the winger was stopped short by Tyrone Phillips and Tyrone Peachey.
The Panthers were rewarded for their defensive efforts just moments later as a Peachey line break carried the Panthers into the Dragons half, and Nathan Cleary carved through the Dragons backpedalling defence to dash to the try line. Maloney added the extras to put the Panthers in front 8-0 after 35 minutes.
The Panthers looked to extend their lead with a frantic piece of play over the halftime siren, but were eventually tamed by the Dragons relentless defence.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 8-0 DRAGONS
Yeo threw himself at the Dragons goal line defence as the Panthers went on the attack in the 44th minute, but the back rower fumbled the football at the try line.
A penalty against James Maloney in the 47th minute allowed Gareth Widdop to take the two and narrow the margin to a converted try.
However an offside penalty against the Dragons in the 50th minute allowed Maloney to return serve and slot a penalty goal, pushing the Panthers ahead 10-2.
Maloney then sent Yeo into the open space in the 53rd minute to put the Dragons on the back foot. Cleary then instigated a backline shift and the football made its way to Christian Crichton, who reached out to plant the ball down in the corner. Maloney sliced the conversion from the sideline to take the Panthers out to a 14-point lead.
Wayde Egan announced his introduction to the match as he burrowed his way over the line in the 57th minute. However, the Dragons were let off as James Tamou was penalised for impeding the defence.
Poor ball handling by the Panthers handed the Dragons an opportunity in the red zone, but Penrith muscled up in defence to force a knock on and keep the opposition try-less after 62 minutes.
The Dragons shifted the ball to Nightingale in a desperate 68th-minute effort to crack the Panthers defence, but the winger was thrown into touch by Peachey and Phillips.
The Panthers then put the result beyond doubt in the 70th minute when Maloney went short to Viliame Kikau, who carried three players with him en route to the try line. Maloney landed the conversion to stretch the Panthers lead to 20 points.
The Panthers put the icing on the win in the final minute of play as Egan sent a deft grubber to the in goal for Reagan Campbell-Gillard to pounce on and send the sold out home crowd into raptures. Maloney kicked the conversion to wrap up a stunning 26-point win by the Panthers.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 28-2 DRAGONS