The Panthers proved too strong for the Brisbane Broncos in a hard-fought 25-12 victory at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday.
The Panthers were far from their best against a spirited Broncos outfit, but did just enough to score their twelfth-consecutive win and put themselves on the brink of securing the NRL minor premiership.
In a scrappy affair, the class of Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary shone through. Cleary tormented the Broncos with his boot all night, as he assisted two tries with kicks, landed a field goal, and guided the Panthers around the park with great poise.
Kurt Capewell’s return from an eleven-week injury layoff was a triumphant one, as he scored a try with his very first touch of the football. He was joined on the score sheet by Jarome Luai, Josh Mansour and Brian To’o.
The Broncos had been in poor form recently, but made the Panthers work hard for victory.
Brisbane dominated proceedings early on, and scored the opening try when Kotoni Staggs sliced through out wide. The centre added the conversion to give the hosts an early 6-0 lead.
The Panthers remained on the backfoot for some time, but kept their composure and drew level in the 24th minute.
Luai opens the door for Mansour
Jarome Luai caught the attention of several Broncos as he danced around the left edge, before he fended off a defender to create a two-on-one for Josh Mansour to score. Nathan Cleary landed the sideline conversion to make it 6-6.
Cleary nudged the Panthers ahead with a penalty goal in the 33rd minute, before again using his boot to extend Penrith’s lead.
The Panthers were shaped for a backline play, but Cleary instead rolled a grubber to the in-goal. Chasing through to score was Kurt Capewell, with his very first touch of the football in his long-awaited return from injury.
Capewell celebrates return with four-pointer
Cleary added the extras to send the Panthers into halftime with an eight-point buffer.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 14 – BRONCOS 6
The early stages of the second half were a tense battle for field position; the Panthers slowly gained the upper hand, and piled on their third try in the 56th minute.
The Panthers halves combined to great effect, as Jarome Luai pounced on a wonderful grubber by Nathan Cleary close to the line. Cleary was again on target with the conversion, giving the Panthers a 20-6 advantage.
Luai wins the race to Cleary's grubber
Despite the comfortable margin, Penrith had been somewhat wasteful with their attacking chances. This came back to bite them, as the Broncos scored in the 63rd minute to get back in the contest.
Jordan Riki latched onto a short ball from Tom Dearden to break into open space, and dashed 40 metres to dive over in the corner. Kotoni Staggs kicked the conversion to close the gap to eight points with 15 minutes remaining.
Brisbane had momentum on their side, but the Panthers stayed composed and pulled away in the 70th minute.
Nathan Cleary was at the heart of it all, setting a backline play in motion after cleverly forcing a dropout. The halfback went out the back to Dylan Edwards, whose cut-out pass sent Brian To’o over in the corner.
Air To'o finishes perfect backline play
The Panthers led 24-12 heading into the closing stages, but the Broncos were still in with a chance. That was, until Cleary knocked over a field goal to top off his man-of-the-match display and secure Penrith’s twelfth-consecutive victory.
Cleary field goal seals victory against Brisbane
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 25 – BRONCOS 12