Classy Cleary steers Panthers to crucial win

Warriors v Penrith Panthers

Nathan Cleary scored 22 points of his own as the Panthers pounced late to down the Warriors 34-22 in front of over 13,000 fans at 'Manu Vatuvei Stadium'.

The Warriors opened Friday night's clash in perfect fashion. James Tamou was pinned for being offside and the home side were given an early chance to strike - and they did. Shaun Johnson burned debutant Tyrone May and found Simon Mannering in support for the opening try in the 1st minute.

The Warriors had all the running early yet the Panthers were able to hold on and were rewarded when Corey Harawira-Naera chased through and planted a Nathan Cleary grubber in the 12th minute. However, just as it looked as if the Panthers were gaining momentum, Waqa Blake fumbled the kick-off to gift the Warriors another opportunity to post points. Penrith survived the first set defending their line, with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak forced to take a Johnson kick dead on the last.

Unfortunately, they were unable to hold the Warriors out in the ensuing set when Solomone Kata burst over from dummy-half for a soft try in the 16th minute. It was certainly a see-sawing affair early on when Blake claimed to have scored Penrith's second try in the 19th minute. Yet, the young centre added to what had already been a mixed outing when he was ruled to have dropped the ball with the try line begging.

The Panthers' handling would not deny them in the 24th minute, however, when Cleary took the line on and found Trent Merrin in support who then offloaded for May who would cross over for a try on debut. Unfortunately Merrin would be injured in the action, forced off for the remainder of the game with a medial ligament injury. Cleary's running game proved dangerous again in the 33rd minute when he outpaced some lazy Warriors defenders to put the Panthers in front for the first time.

The home side appeared to have hit back soon after when Ken Maumalo scooped up the ball and dived over in the corner for what would have been an important try with half time looming. Yet, the New Zealand winger was ruled to have bobbled the ball attempting to pick it up and the Panthers would head into the sheds with an 18-12 lead.

Both sides opened the second half in concerning fashion, with the Panthers making two early errors and inviting the Warriors back into the contest. Then, a contentious call saw Corey Harawira-Naera sin-binned and the home side would take full advantage when Kata crashed over for his second try of the night.

The Warriors would continue to reap the rewards of an undermanned Penrith outfit when they used the width of the field to send Bodene Thompson over in the 53rd minute. The two points were quickly slipping away from Anthony Griffin's men when Isaac Luke sprinted away and found Ligi Sao who claimed a try in the 61st minute. However, the Panthers were given a stroke of luck when the video replay showed that the bench forward had dropped the ball before grounding it. The replay also revealed Johnson go down with a leg injury whilst running in support and the influential halfback was assisted off the field and would not return.

Penrith then bounced back after a quick dart from dummy-half from Sione Katoa saw the Panthers perfectly execute a set play. Katoa passed to Reagan Campbell-Gillard who skilfully turned it back inside to a flashy Dylan Edwards and who was there in support - none other than Nathan Cleary, who would convert his own try to give his side the lead.

Moments later, the halfback had a hat trick! He took the line on and scooted between defenders before sliding over to put the result beyond doubt in the 73rd minute.

And the last try of the night? Yes, Cleary had a hand in that too! Cleary's bombs had terrorised the Warriors' back five all night and this time they did not even bother contesting it as Blake was given a free grab at the ball and this time he grounded it. In the end, Cleary finished with a personal tally of 22 points as he stepped up in Matt Moylan's absence to guide the Panthers to a 34-22 win.

Next week, the Warriors look to keep their slim finals hopes alive against the Cowboys at 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday night. Meanwhile, the Panthers will look for three-straight wins when they battle the Titans at Pepper Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Warriors 22 - Penrith Panthers 34

Venue: Mt Smart Stadium
Crowd: 13076
Halftime Score: Warriors 12 Penrith Panthers 18

LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - Nathan Cleary
2 points - Regan Campbell-Gillard
1 points - Solomone Kata

WARRIORS (22)
Tries: Simon Mannering, Solomone Kata (2), Bodene Thompson
Field Goals:
Conversions: Shaun Johnson (2/2), Issac Luke (1/2)
Penalty Goals:

PENRITH PANTHERS (34)
Tries: Corey Harawira, Nathan Cleary (3), Tyrone May, Waqa Blake
Field Goals:
Conversions: Nathan Cleary (5/6)
Penalty Goals:


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