The Panthers saved the best for last in 2019, annihilating Newcastle Knights 54-10 at Panthers Stadium on Sunday.
It was the Panthers’ biggest win of the year and while all eyes were on James Maloney in his final NRL game, his halves partner stole the show.
Nathan Cleary created Panthers history as he scored an incredible four tries and kicked nine goals from nine attempts. His 34-point haul saw him break Michael Gordon’s record for most points by a Panthers player in a game.
In just his second game of first grade, Billy Burns bagged a double, and was joined on the scoresheet by Brian To’o, Wayde Egan and Moses Leota.
It was a resounding result which not only saw James Maloney go out a winner, but also rewarded the 12,027 fans in attendance at Panthers Stadium after what has been a difficult season.
After conceding the first try in both halves, the Panthers bounced back in style.
Knights debutant Starford To’a opened the scoring with a 70-metre intercept try in the 20th minute, but the remainder of the first half was all Panthers.
Nathan Cleary got the ball rolling in the 24th minute when he sliced through the line and skipped past Kalyn Ponga, and then converted to bump the Panthers ahead.
Jarome Luai and Brian To’o made something out of nothing for a spectacular, second Panthers try in the 33rd minute.
Luai picked up a dead ball and drifted from the left edge to the right, before passing it out the back. To’o got it off Whare and did the rest himself, cutting back inside and beating six defenders to score.
The Panthers were well in control, and Nathan Cleary made sure it was reflected on the scoreboard.
He scored another try in the 37th minute almost identical to his first, breaking the line and beating Ponga to cross. His third successful conversion gave the Panthers a healthy 14-point lead at the break.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 18 – KNIGHTS 4
After losing Brent Naden to illness pre-game, the Panthers’ backline was further depleted by an injury to Brian To’o in the second half. This saw Jarome Luai push to the wing and Billy Burns come on at centre.
The Knights fought their way back into the contest early the second half, as Herman Ese’ese crawled over. Mason Lino added the extras to narrow the margin to eight points after 45 minutes.
But on the back of a Dylan Edwards line break, the Panthers reasserted their authority in the 49th minute.
Rookie Billy Burns scored his first try in the NRL, as he latched onto Nathan Cleary’s cross-field bomb and slid over. Cleary’s conversion restored Penrith’s 14-point advantage.
Shortly after, the Panthers scored a stunning try to bust the floodgates open.
Burns broke through and linked with Luai, and the makeshift winger found Viliame Kikau on his outside. After tiptoeing the sideline, Kikau flicked it in to Wayde Egan, who ran away to finish off an incredible team effort.
A Stephen Crichton line break left the Knights backpedalling in the 57th minute, and Connor Watson was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul.
The Panthers capitalised on Watson’s dismissal, as Egan shaped to go out the back before going short to Moses Leota, who strolled over to make it 36-10.
The Nathan Cleary rout continued in the 62nd minute as he completed his hat-trick. The halfback did what he does best, taking on the line to slip through and score.
Billy Burns crossed for a second try in the 65th minute, in what was another great team try.
James Maloney spun it wide where Jarome Luai found room to move, before he passed back inside to Egan who found his real-life housemate Burns backing up.
Nathan Cleary broke the record for most points in a game by a Panthers player in the 66th minute. He pushed up in support of James Tamou and ran away for his fourth try of the night, and his ninth-straight conversion stretched the Panthers’ lead to 44 points.
Despite the massive margin, there was not a hint of complacency from the Panthers. Aidan Guerra had a near clear path to the line in the 70th minute before being stopped in his tracks by Penrith’s scrambling defence, led by Viliame Kikau.
It ensured the Panthers came away with a 44-point victory to finish the season and send James Maloney out with one last win.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 54 – KNIGHTS 10