The Penrith Panthers have become the first team in the NRL era to start a season with a 10-0 record after a dominant 48-12 win over the Gold Coast Titans.
Nathan Cleary put on a masterclass in attack, recording a 28-point personal haul with three tries, three linebreaks, two try assists and just as many linebreak assists.
It was Cleary’s running game in particular that caused problems for the Titans with the halfback taking on the line for 157 metres.
Up front it was James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota who laid the platform, combining for over 300 metres.
It was the perfect way for the Panthers to celebrate J’maine Hopgood’s debut in style, with the 22-year old impressing off the bench in his first NRL game.
The defensive work early was the highlight as both teams defended multiple sets on their own line for a grinding start.
Leota sparked Penrith’s first try with a one-on-one strip on Tyrone Peachey, handing the Panthers a full set near the Gold Coast line.
Isaah Yeo then beat three attempts at tackle and offloaded for Cleary who took the line on and scored the opening try.
The Panthers though had to then deal with some adversity as Leota was sent to the sin bin for high contact on Jamal Fogarty.
It did not stop Penrith though as a lovely exchange of passes between Stephen Crichton, Dylan Edwards and Cleary brought the Panthers inside the Gold Coast red zone.
A quick play-the-ball from Cleary allowed Edwards to scheme out of dummy-half and the No. 7 was back in support to charge over for his second try.
Cleary has a first-half double
The classy halfback was at it again minutes later as he gave Fisher-Harris the ball on an angle and the prop stormed over to score Penrith’s third.
The Panthers went on to remain unblemished without Leota and then a near length-of-the-field run from Edwards ended with the barnstorming front rower redeeming himself as he slammed the ball down next to the posts.
Leota finishes outstanding team try
The Titans later had Herman Ese’ese sent off for forceful high contact on Brian To’o.
The Panthers immediately capitalised on the overlap as Charlie Staines sliced over in the dying stages of the first half.
Cleary converted all five tries in the opening 40 minutes to make it a 30-point difference at the break.
HALF-TIME: Panthers 30 - Titans 0
The Panthers did not take long to extend the lead in the second stanza as Cleary floated it over the top for Staines to score his second.
Cleary throws a beauty to Staines
A perfectly-executed right-side raid then saw Cleary once again turn provider to put Liam Martin through with Fisher-Harris’ ball-playing at the line also proving crucial.
The Titans then enjoyed a dominant share of possession on Penrith’s line but the Panthers could not be breached.
A string of offloads later saw Viliame Kikau surge through for what would have been Penrith’s eighth try only for the Bunker to bring it back for a raised forearm from Liam Martin.
Martin strolls over for the Panthers seventh try
The Gold Coast eventually went over through Beau Fermor for their first try of the night before a long-range effort saw AJ Brimson score the Titans’ second.
It was only fitting that Cleary would ice the victory with his third as he fended off four attempts at tackle to force his way over.
Cleary maintained his perfect night with the boot to kick eight from eight in total.
FULL-TIME: Panthers 48 - Titans 12