The Panthers extended their historic winning streak to eleven games as they defeated the Wests Tigers 30-6 at Panthers Stadium on Saturday.
It was another fiery encounter between the Panthers and Tigers, but Penrith were far too strong as they edged closer to claiming the NRL minor premiership.
Brian To’o celebrated his long-awaited return from injury with a try, while halves Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai cut the Tigers to ribbons with one try assist each.
The Panthers have become accustomed to leading matches in 2020, but on this occasion they had to find a way to come from behind for victory.
For the first time since Round 1, the Panthers conceded the opening try when David Nofoaluma tracked down a clever kick out wide by Benji Marshall. Moses Mbye’s conversion gave the Tigers a 6-0 lead after 9 minutes.
An already fiery affair reached boiling point when Moses Mbye appeared to strike at Nathan Cleary with the boot, but the incident was waved away.
The Panthers were starved of chances for most of the first half, but when the Tigers gave them an inch, Penrith took a mile.
With a rare attacking opportunity, Jarome Luai scored an impressive solo try, as he sidestepped one goal-line defender and muscled away from a couple more to touch down. Cleary converted to make it 6-6 after 30 minutes.
Luai jinks and steps through the defensive line
Tyrone May was denied by some last-ditch Tigers defence soon after, however there would be no stopping his back-row partner in the 36th minute.
Liam Martin went over for a try to put the Panthers in the lead, charging onto a well-weighted pass by Cleary close to the line. The halfback added the extras to put the Panthers up 12-6.
Cleary and Martin combine to put the Panthers in front
The Panthers continued their attacking raid in the closing moments of the first half, but their momentum was extinguished by a professional foul from Adam Doueihi, for which he was sin binned.
Nathan Cleary took the gift two points, and the Panthers entered half-time with an eight-point advantage.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 14 – WESTS TIGERS 6
The second half begun on a sour note, as Panthers forward Isaah Yeo left the field due to a head knock.
The Panthers failed to add to their lead while the Tigers were reduced to twelve men, but their third try eventually came in the 52nd minute.
Tyrone May sent a terrific cut-out ball to Brian To’o, who bumped off two defenders to touch down in the corner. The winger was then mobbed by his teammates in celebration, as he celebrated his return from injury with a try.
To'o seals comeback with four-pointer
Cleary’s sideline conversion attempt was unsuccessful, and the difference remained 12 points.
The Panthers continued to apply pressure on the Tigers goal-line, but Wests held on for dear life to remain in the contest with 15 minutes to play.
Spencer Leniu appeared to have sealed the win when he crashed over for what would have been his first NRL try. But the young prop was pinged for a double movement, keeping the Tigers’ hopes alive.
But the Panthers could only be contained for so long, and they eventually landed the killer blow in the 73rd minute.
Jarome Luai rolled a grubber to the in-goal for left-edge partner Stephen Crichton, who was set to pounce on the ball before being taken out by Joey Leilua. But the Bunker awarded a penalty try, allowing Cleary to take the conversion from in front and make it 24-6.
Bunker awards penalty try to Crichton
James Tamou handed the Panthers one last attack after forcing a dropout with an incredible kick, and the hosts took the opportunity to top off their commanding win with a fifth try.
Winger Josh Mansour latched onto a looping cut-out pass by Tyrone May, before cutting infield and charging over the stripe.
Nathan Cleary then converted from out wide, putting the icing on the Panthers’ eleventh-consecutive victory.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 30 – WESTS TIGERS 6