The Panthers extended their winning streak to seven by slaughtering St George-Illawarra Dragons 40-18 at Panthers Stadium on Friday.
Penrith are now just one victory away from equalling the club’s longest-ever winning streak of eight games, set by the premiership-winning Panthers of 2003. The resounding result also confirms the Panthers’ position in the top 8 for at least another week.
The Panthers piled seven tries on the Dragons in what was easily their best attacking performance of the year, after surpassing 20 points for only the second time this season last week.
James Maloney was again immense with three try assists, while Nathan Cleary marked his return from an ankle injury with a try, an assist, and six goals.
Brian To’o continued his try-scoring form with a second-consecutive double, while Brent Naden also bagged two tries. Props Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Moses Leota were on the scoresheet too.
The first of Penrith’s seven tries came in the 8th minute. Maloney put a clever kick over the top with Brian To’o gliding through, and the winger came up with an excellent put-down, inches from the sideline.
Another kick to the in-goal spelled another try for the Panthers in the 20th minute.
Mitch Kenny rolled it through from dummy half, and Brent Naden went shoulder-to-shoulder with Mikaele Ravalawa to win the race to the ball. Cleary landed the goal to stretch the Panthers’ lead to 10-0 after 20 minutes.
Against the run of play, the Dragons crossed with their first attack of the game to get themselves back in the contest, before snatching the lead shortly after.
In the 26th minute, Luciano Leilua created an overlap for Ravalawa to dive over in the corner, and Corey Norman’s sideline conversion trimmed it down to 10-6.
Then, after Josh Mansour was denied a try for a forward pass, the Dragons edged ahead.
Despite a great ankle tap by Viliame Kikau on a runaway Matt Dufty, the Dragons scored on the next tackle when Josh Kerr slipped through the sliding defence. Norman added the goal to nudge the visitors into a 12-10 advantage just before the break.
The Dragons were well on top heading into halftime, but then a piece of individual brilliance by Brian To’o saw the Panthers snatch back the lead, setting an onslaught in motion.
After the Panthers shifted right, To’o cut back inside, sliced through the middle, put the foot down and muscled his way over the stripe for a stunning solo try. Cleary’s conversion gave the Panthers a four-point lead at the interval.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 16 – DRAGONS 12
The Panthers carried that momentum into the second half, and scored four tries in the space of 20 minutes.
In the 43rd minute, James Fisher-Harris shaped to go out the back before passing short to Leota, who strolled through the goal-line defence. Cleary added the extras to restore the Panthers’ 10-point lead.
The Panthers halves linked up for the next try. James Maloney dribbled it through the middle, and Cleary raced through to jump on the ball, before kicking the conversion for 28-12.
The next try was all Cleary, as he went from scorer to provider.
After his towering bomb left Matt Dufty for dead, Cleary rushed over to the unmarked left edge. He quickly got his hands on the ball and spun it to Brent Naden, who strolled over for his second of the night.
Maloney got back among the action as the Panthers piled on their seventh try in the 59th minute. The five-eighth went short to send Reagan Campbell-Gillard over for his first try of the year, and Cleary kicked the Panthers past the 40-point margin.
The Panthers’ momentum was halted in the 64th minute, as Viliame Kikau was sin binned.
During Kikau’s absence, Paul Vaughan reached out to score a consolation for the Dragons.
Moses Leota almost grabbed an unlikely double when he pounced on a Wayde Egan grubber on the stroke of fulltime, but the goalpost got in his way.
It mattered little, as the Panthers came away with a massive result to put them one win away from equalling club history.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 40 – DRAGONS 18