A Nathan Cleary inspired Panthers has dominated the Sydney Roosters, running out 38-12 winners in huge victory in front of their home fans at Blue Bet Stadium tonight.
Despite carrying a nasty looking black eye into the match, Cleary was superb for Penrith after his side fell behind early to the visitors, the raging hot Dally M favourite then terrorised the Roosters defensive line again and again in one of the most dominant individual displays of the 2021 season so far.
The NSW halfback scored a try and was involved in five others to go with four forced line drop outs and seven goals to have those fans north of the border very nervous of his sublime form heading into Origin II next week.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson was critical of the crucial call from the Bunker, which resulted in Roosters prop Siosuia Taukeaho being sent to the Sin Bin following a high tackle on a slipping Nathan Cleary in the first half. While it was consistent with the recent NRL head high crackdown, the accidental contact cost the Roosters, with the Panthers trailing 12-6 at the time.
By the time Taukeaho returned, the 12-man Roosters were punished by Penrith who ran in two tries and a penalty goal to take the momentum away and go onto a commanding win.
From the kickoff it was the Roosters who were out of the blocks quickly, when makeshift five-eighth Joey Manu kicked for rookie Joseph Suaalii on the last. The ball then bounced off Suallii's shoulder and presented rookie backrower Fletcher Baker with a gift to score under the posts for the first try of his career and of the match. Adam Keighran converted from in front and it was 6-0 to the visitors in as many minutes.
The Tricolours then continued their early dominance when off the back of a strong run from Jared Waerea-Hargraves, hooker Adam Keighran caught the Panthers markers napping close to the line to sneak over from dummy half and give his side a two try lead.
Joey Manu then turned the game for the opposition, when he knocked on in goal from the kick-off to give the home side a chance to get back into the game. Penrith were quick to capitalise, when Cleary kicked early on the third tackle for Stephen Crichton who managed to get to the ball first to strike back for the Panthers.
With the Roosters leading 12-6, the game then turned on its head, when Taukeaho was sent to the Sin Bin following a high tackle on a slipping Nathan Cleary. It was unlucky, there was no intent, Cleary was fine but it was high contact and forceful which saw Taukeaho marched for ten minutes.
The Panthers immediately took advantage, when they spread the ball wide off the scrum, which saw Matt Burton puts his winger Brian To'o over in the far corner to score. Cleary converted from out wide and Penrith tied the scores at 12-all.
Roosters firebrand Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was then penalised for an illegal steal and Cleary took the two points on offer to edge in front. The Blues number 7 then ran riot, firstly running across field on the left-hand side to again create space for his centre Burton who again put Brian To'o over in the corner to score his second try to extend the lead to 18-12.
The Panthers then turned the screws, with Cleary and NSW halves partner Jarome Luai combining for a stunning four forced drop outs in a row. Under enormous pressure, Roosters backrower Egan Butcher was then penalised for another high tackle on Cleary after a kick. It again cost the visitors two more points with Cleary extending the lead to 22-12 at halftime.
The Cleary show continued after the break, when the Penrith halfback dug deep into the Roosters defensive line and found space for lock Isaah Yeo who scored beside the posts. He then backed that effort up, kicking high on the last for Burton who batted the ball back for Cleary to go on a solo run to spin and twist his way over to score and extend the lead to 34-12.
Cleary was then rushed at the line by the Roosters defence but the mercurial half could do no wrong with the pass bouncing off the wet grass into the hands of Charlie Staines to score in the corner to ice the game and give his side a dominant 38-12 win.
The Panthers now head into the local derby against Parramatta Friday the week after Origin at home, where they will hope to continue to push for the Minor Premiership.
The Roosters draw doesn't get much easier, with a tight turnaround where they face the Melbourne Storm at the Sydney Cricket Ground on that Thursday.