A kicking masterclass from Nathan Cleary has helped the Penrith Panthers to a 25-12 win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
Cleary caused all kinds of problems for the South Sydney backline, kicking for 840 metres in an aerial assault that included towering bombs and two forced dropouts.
It was made even more impressive given the Panthers lost Dylan Edwards in the first half after the fullback failed a H.I.A test.
The Panthers fell to an early 12-0 deficit as a classy Rabbitohs side capitalised on early field position.
South Sydney opened the scoring through the boot of Adam Reynolds before striking through its lethal left edge.
It came in controversial fashion though with replays appearing to show the ball stripped from Dylan Edwards in the lead-up to Dane Gagai’s try shortly after.
Reynolds’ boot came to the fore again later as he kicked a 40-20 and then the halfback put Keaon Koloamatangi through, with an offload putting Latrell Mitchell over for South Sydney’s second.
The Panthers were struggling to get any chances in the red zone against a relentless Rabbitohs outfit but eventually Nathan Cleary inspired a fightback.
First Cleary created an overlap with a looping ball over the top for Kurt Capewell before backing up in support to take Paul Momirovski’s kick back inside.
Cleary steams onto a pin-point kick from Momirovski
Momirovski, who moved to the wing after Edwards was ruled out, seemed to be doing his best to audition for a spot in the halves.
Once again he put boot to ball on the stroke of halftime and set up Stephen Crichton with a deft kick.
It came after quick hands from Liam Martin created space on the outside.
Cleary missed his final shot at conversion with Reynolds kicking both of his to give Souths a two-point buffer at the break.
Momirovski lays on another crazy try
HALF-TIME: Rabbitohs 12 - Panthers 10
Both sides traded sets in a tense arm wrestle to begin the second half before Penrith gained ascendancy and Cleary slotted a penalty goal to lock up the scores.
The Panthers halfback went on to force two dropouts and heap more pressure on the Rabbitohs but they stood tall in defence.
A penalty eventually saw the field position turn into points as Cleary booted Penrith to the lead for the first time in the game.
Cleary’s kicking game continued to terrorise the South Sydney outside backs, forcing an error from Josh Mansour and earning the Panthers another points-scoring opportunity.
Penrith took full advantage this time as a slick left-edge raid saw Brent Naden cruise over.
Naden strolls over for the Panthers third straight try
Cleary could not convert from the sideline though, leaving the scoreline at 18-12.
He stood up though to continue to control the contest with his pinpoint kicking game before nailing the match-sealing field goal with five minutes remaining.
Apisai Koroisau played a key role in the one-pointer with a long ball from dummy-half.
His efforts were later rewarded with a try just before the siren as the Panthers ran out big winners.
FULL-TIME: Panthers 25 - Rabbitohs 12