The Panthers kicked off their 2021 NRL campaign in style, cruising to a 24-0 triumph over North Queensland Cowboys at Panthers Stadium on Saturday.
Penrith hit the ground running on the back of their memorable last season, as a strong second half and a typically commanding performance by halfback Nathan Cleary spurred the Panthers to a comfortable, shutout victory.
After looking slightly blunt during the first half, the Panthers roared to life in the second stanza and blew the Cowboys off the park.
Kurt Capewell, Dylan Edwards, Brian To’o and Isaah Yeo each scored tries, while Cleary slotted four goals in front of a packed crowd at Panthers Stadium.
It was a night to remember for Cleary and Yeo in particular, as they celebrated their first match as Panthers co-captains with victory. So too for Paul Momirovski and Matt Eisenhuth, who became Panthers No. 597 and 598, respectively.
Capewell opens the Panthers account for 2021
If this performance was any indication, the Panthers certainly look primed for another big year in 2021.
Dylan Edwards showed great skill and awareness early on to save a 40/20 and then send Brian To’o on a run upfield, which paved the way for the Panthers opening try.
Attacking the goal-line, a short ball by Nathan Cleary gave Kurt Capewell room to move, and the second rower shrugged off three defenders to score the Panthers first try of 2021. Cleary then converted to put the Panthers ahead by six points within as many minutes.
After a successful captain’s challenge earned the Panthers a penalty, Cleary added another two points to the scoreboard in the 13th minute.
A colossal run by Viliame Kikau got the Panthers Stadium crowd off their seats midway through the first half, as he bumped off three defenders before toppling fullback Scott Drinkwater.
The Cowboys recovered and spent an extended period attacking the goal-line, but the Panthers goal-line defence was far too strong.
The Panthers dominated the remainder of the second half and looked threatening every time they touched the ball; however, the clinical edge was lacking.
Paul Momirovski appeared to have scored a try on his Panthers debut as he stormed over three defenders and dived for the corner – a try was awarded, until a Bunker review uncovered a knock on and resulted in the four-pointer being chalked off.
Nathan Cleary landed an outrageous 40/20 with a torpedo bomb late in the first half, but nothing came from it and the Panthers had to settle for the eight-point margin at the break.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 8 – COWBOYS 0
The Cowboys took control of possession early in the second half, until a Dylan Edwards line break put the Panthers on the attack. A certain Charlie Staines try was quashed by the Cowboys’ cover defence, but the Panthers’ second four-pointer finally came in the 55th minute.
A driving run by Nathan Cleary left the Cowboys goal-line defence scattered, and Jarome Luai linked with Dylan Edwards for the fullback to pierce through a gap and touch down.
Cleary converted the try, stretching the Panthers lead to 14-0.
Edwards has eyes for the line
The Panthers quickly went back on the attack, and it was not long before they put the game to bed.
The Panthers left edge clicked into gear in the 58th minute, as Jarome Luai drew in several defenders before firing a pass out wide to Stephen Crichton, who then sent Brian To’o diving over in the corner.
Cleary’s sideline conversion attempt shaved the upright, and it remained 18-0.
Air To'o takes flight
The floodgates had well and truly burst open, as the Panthers piled on a fourth try in the 62nd minute.
Liam Martin rose above the pack to pluck out Nathan Cleary’s bomb to the in-goal, before popping out an offload for Isaah Yeo to mark his debut as Panthers co-captain with a try.
Cleary knocked over the goal, extending the lead to 24 points.
Martin flies high and puts Yeo over to score
Victory was sealed, but the Panthers were still absolutely determined to keep the Cowboys to nil – that was clear as ever late on when the right edge combined to drag Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow over the sideline.
To’o then backed up on that effort with a try-saving tackle on Kyle Feldt in the dying seconds to securing a 24-0 win, the perfect start to what looks a very promising campaign.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 24 – COWBOYS 0