Leaping Panther's stunning try Penrith's Nathan Cleary during NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and Wests Tigers at Penrith Stadium. Picture. Phil Hillyard
Leaping Panther's stunning try Penrith's Nathan Cleary during NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and Wests Tigers at Penrith Stadium. Picture. Phil Hillyard

Panthers state Origin case in Tigers domination

RETURNING Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary staked his claim for a NSW Origin spot just a day after Brad Fittler emphatically endorsed Parramatta's Mitchell Moses as a potential Blues halfback.

Fittler came out strong in his support for Moses, who he worked closely with in Lebanon's World Cup side, despite rival halfbacks having two more games to impress the NSW coach.

Cleary wasted no time in his first game back playing after eight weeks out with a knee injury, enjoying a seamless return in Penrith's 16-2 win over the Wests Tigers at Panthers Stadium.

And he did it in front of Fittler, who sat watching on the sidelines while working for Channel 9.

"It felt really good," Nathan said. "To be back finally and playing some footy is the best feeling.

"The only talk (about Origin) has been from the media. I haven't really thought about it too much. I have just been focused on rehab.

"I'm just stoked to be back playing footy with my best mates and even better getting a win. The most pleasing thing was that I didn't really even think about the knee. It was hard watching for eight weeks."

Cleary's performance wasn't perfect by any means, but he certainly enhanced rather than hurt his chances. He was more sound than sensational.

It also gave the 20-year-old bragging rights over his father, Tigers coach Ivan Cleary.

"He looked threatening, actually," Ivan said afterwards.

Moses has his chance to dazzle Fittler in the Eels' clash with the New Zealand Warriors at ANZ Stadium.

Cleary set up a marvellous first-half try and created several opportunities in the second half.

He looked composed and fit.

"I thought it was a really good, solid 80 minutes," said Panthers coach Anthony Griffin. "It's obviously hard coming back after you've been out for eight weeks.

"I thought he did a great job, his kicking game was good. He made a few half breaks and was incisive with the ball. He was strong in defence I thought it was a good return."

Penrith five-eighth, James Maloney, said to be under pressure to win selection, also had some nice touches.

Maloney threw a truly superb long ball to unmarked winger Phillips, who leapt over his opposite, David Nofoaluma, to score a spectacular try.

Phillips scored a spectacular try in the first half.
Phillips scored a spectacular try in the first half.

 

Maloney threw an exquisite first half pass for a try to winger Tyrone Phillips, who leapt over his opposite, David Nofoaluma, to score a spectacular try.

It was lovely vision from Maloney and give the Panthers a 12-2 lead.

"He controlled the game for us," Griffin said. "He's done a really good job, Jimmy. I think it helped him having Nathan back. It took more pressure of him.

"He has worked hard on his defence. Every player has areas where they can improve but he is doing his job from my point of view.

"I wouldn't swap him for anyone. I don't understand the talk about him not playing Origin because of his defence. There are a whole of more positives to him that would be good for NSW."

Victory gave Penrith their eighth win from 11 games this season. While it was the Tigers' fourth defeat in their past five games.

The Tigers were poor, but weren't helped by a bad run with the referees when they conceded the first seven penalties of the second half.

Peachey stated his case for an Origin spot.
Peachey stated his case for an Origin spot.

 

That evened out the first half where the Tigers led the penalty count 6-1 when referee Ben Cummins blew the pea out of the whistle in the opening 14 minutes.

Cummins eventually had enough and sin-binned Panthers forward Trent Merrin for another infringement.

The penalty count was back to 9-all midway through the second half.

Overall, there were 22 penalties given last might to end any hope of a free-flowing game.

There wasn't a try scored in the second half.

Penrith had chances to seal the game through the early and middle stages of the second half but fell short.

Wests' chances were further damaged when bench player Alex Twal was sin-binned. The ensuing penalty goal gave Penrith a 16-2 lead.

The Tigers were out of sorts all night.
The Tigers were out of sorts all night.

 

"I didn't think our kicking game was great," Ivan said. "It was a game where we never really found any rhythm in our attack."

There was a suggestion referee Ben Cummins sin-binned the wrong bloke and it should have been Russell Packer.

Panthers centre Tyrone Peachey - another NSW candidate - was strong. He looked creative and dangerous at times.

The Panthers dominated the first half, scoring two tries to nil for a 10-point lead.

The win keeps Penrith enar the top of the ladder.
The win keeps Penrith enar the top of the ladder.

Wests Tigers started the scoring early through a penalty goal to centre Esan Marsters before levelled up through a goal to Maloney.

There were 11 penalties blown in a stop-start opening 24 minutes.

Cummins eventually had enough and sin-binned Panthers forward Trent Merrin for another infringement.

Wests Tigers couldn't take advantage of Merrin's absence.

It took 25 minutes for the opening try but it was worth the wait.

Cleary placed through a sublime grubber kick which sat up perfectly for teammate Tyrone Peachey to score.

It was beautifully constructed try. Maloney converted to give Penrith an 8-2 lead.

Maloney then set up Phillips for his try to give the Panthers a 12-2 lead as the Tigers really didn't offer up much in the opening 40 minutes.

PENRITH 16 (T Peachey T Phillips tries J Maloney 4 goals) bt WESTS TIGERS 2 (E Marsters goal) at Panthers Stadium. Referee: Ben Cummins, Jon Stone. Crowd: 15,081



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