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Symphony No.7: Cleary masterclass buries Roosters

Nathan Cleary penned his own Panthers symphony then conducted it with aplomb, as he and Penrith had the Steeden positively singing in the rain against a hapless Roosters outfit at BlueBet Stadium on Friday night.

Cleary's sleight of hand and stealth bombing boot put paid to a rapid-fire Roosters start and potentially the Dally M race as well – another three points surely in the bag for the No.7 along with a try and seven from eight off the tee – as the Panthers romped home 38-12.

Coach and father Ivan can't recall seeing his son taking the field in a better headspace.

"I think in terms of confidence it's the highest it's been in his career," Cleary said of Nathan.

"I think he's just at that stage where he's seeing the game clearer. He looked good all week, he was pumped. I was pretty confident he was going to play well. 

"He's probably working harder now than ever, which is a challenge in itself. He works so hard, he's just seeing the game better.

"I've been saying that for a few years, it was always going to take a while for the game to slow down and the good news is we're probably three or four years away from his best."

Once again, though, a line-ball sin-binning proved the catalyst in this contest's swing, with Cleary at its epicentre long before the eventual six-tries-to-two trouncing.

With the Roosters leading 12-6, Cleary slipped going to the line in the 22nd minute, copping a shoulder from Siousiua Taukeiaho that would have collected him in the waist if he had stayed upright.

Some sort of skill from Cleary

Cleary bounced straight to his feet but, despite the Tricolours' remonstrations, Taukeiaho was sent for a 10-minute breather, a decision that positively sucked the life out of them.

Against a 12-man defence, Cleary simply reigned supreme.

But such was his dominance, the strings were already being pulled his way while the Roosters held a surprise 12-0 lead through early tries to Fletcher Baker and Adam Keighran.

In need of a circuit breaker, Cleary produced it with only their second tackle in Roosters territory after 15 minutes.

Bringing the Tricolours defence in for a look before then turning them around with a grubber early in the count, Stephen Crichton was a lay-down misère in pursuit of Cleary's kick, dragging Penrith back into a contest they had until then only played a bit part in.

NSW Origin coach Brad Fittler could only marvel at his halfback in commentary, noting that the 23-year-old is largely left to his own devices in Blues camp these days.

Cleary scores after the Roosters fail to diffuse his high ball

"He knows more about the game than just about anyone at the moment," Fittler gushed.

By the time Cleary and Taukeiaho collided, Penrith were already on their way back.

Slick hands in the wet had To'o touching down in the corner, before the No.7 duly banged over a sideline stunner for a 12-all deadlock.

Another Panthers penalty goal put them in front and only an outside shoulder decoy by Crichton kept their lead to two, a dubiously denied try to Charlie Staines briefly keeping them at bay.

Burton mesmerising as To'o grabs a double

Two tackles, eight passes and 70 metres later, though, To'o had his second. Cleary toyed with defenders in the lead-up, then nailed another touchline conversion for fun.

The Roosters didn't touch the ball in the 10 minutes afterwards as Cleary and Luai turned the screws with no less than seven repeat sets.

As is the Tricolours' wont, Penrith were gallantly held to only another penalty goal before the break.

After it, though, Isaah Yeo carried defenders across the line with him before Cleary did the same as the floodgates threatened to burst forth.

Yeo beats several Roosters on the way to the line

Having shouldered their way through a mountain of defensive work the Roosters hands began to fail them in the wet, winger Matt Ikuvalu enduring a particularly tough night with three handling errors.

On the opposite flank Staines helped himself to the try denied in the first half, while Cleary's missed conversion from the touchline proved he was human after all.

It mattered nought, though, especially for the 14,406 on hand at Bluebet Stadium.

After a few rare weeks of rugby league mortality without their Origin stars, the Panthers returned to the winner's circle, and top of the ladder, in emphatic fashion - none more so than their No.7.

Press Conference: Panthers v Roosters - Round 15, 2021

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Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.