Penrith bailed out by exactly who you’d expect

Nathan Cleary, who has arguably been the best player in the league for the past 18 months, delivered arguably the game of his life on Friday night.

And imagine if he had full use of both eyes.

Still sporting a bloodshot right eye from his heroic State of Origin effort in game one, Cleary made his return to action with another masterful display in a 38-12 romp over the Sydney Roosters.

Cleary even gave the Roosters a 12-point start on Friday night, but that wasn’t nearly enough as Penrith reeled off an unanswered six tries to cruise to victory.

Most of them came after Roosters prop Sio Siua Taukeiaho was dubiously sin-binned in the first half, allowing the Panthers to roar back into the contest with 14 points in his absence.

The resounding triumph, played in front of a crowd of 14,406 at BlueBet Stadium, emphatically snaps a two-game losing streak played without their seven-man Origin contingent.

But a fully fit, fully in-form Penrith side went back to having fun again.

And it was Cleary, who led the Dally M leaderboard by four points on 21 when voting went behind closed doors after round 12, who again proved why he’s the hottest player in the game.

The Panthers co-captain set up two tries, scored one himself, nailed seven from eight looks on goal, and added a successful refereeing challenge later in the match.

Penrith winger and Blues teammate Brian To’o pitched in with two tries and a lazy game-high 199 metres to go with seven tackle breaks and two line breaks.

The heavens opened early and so did the Panthers, who turned the ball over with their first touch when Dylan Edwards spilt his lollies on a kick return.

Rising star Joseph Suaalii soared to tap back for Fletcher Baker to claim first points, and before the home side knew it, they were down two tries when Adam Keighran strolled over soon after.

Penrith finally found their footing when Crichton seized on an audacious play-two Cleary grubber.

Siosiua Taukeiaho’s sinbinning proved a turning point in the game. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images

GAME-CHANGER

But the game turned on Taukeiaho’s marching orders in the 23rd minute, when he collected Cleary in the head with the top of his arm as he was slipping to the ground.

They drew level on a left-side shift for To’o’s first soon after, went ahead on a Cleary penalty goal, before To’o banked his second on a salivating round-the-corner ball from Matt Burton.

Their end to the half was flawless, with Cleary and Jarome Luai starving the Roosters of possession for the final ten minutes before the break with six line dropouts combined.

Cleary capped off the half with a penalty goal for a 10-point halftime lead.

The second period fizzled out, with a stunned Roosters barely given a sniff by a clinical Panthers machine that cantered to the finish with tries to Cleary, Isaah Yeo and Charlie Staines.

The defeat for the Roosters, who were brave without eight of their top-line players, caps off an emotional week that included the immediate retirement of captain Boyd Cordner.

Firebrand Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was the best in a beaten bunch, making over 120 metres during their dominant opening before finishing with a team-high 146 metres.

BLUES BATTLE

Much of the intrigue heading into the contest was the battle between Blues rookie Liam Martin and Angus Crichton, the latter of whom would’ve been a certain pick for Game One if not for suspension.

There was a sense the pair were battling for one spot, however revelations of Jake Trbojevic’s hip injury means Brad Fittler is likely to have room for both when he names his squad on Sunday.

Fittler couldn’t stop raving about Martin’s abilities for the entire Channel Nine call.

“Amazing for a bloke who is such a brute,” Fittler said of Martin.

“How often he comes in the vicinity of good plays off kicks. He is a real target for Nathan Cleary. If he’s not getting the ball, he is causing mischief wherever the ball lands.”

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