Penrith brush off injury woes to outclass Rabbitohs in Grand Final rematch as Panthers remain unbeaten after eight-point try controversy
Penrith have welcomed back Nathan Cleary for his first NRL game of the season as they brushed aside South Sydney 26-12 in their grand final rematch.
The Panthers are undefeated to start the season and despite racking up five tries could well have had more in front of 20,521 fans at BlueBet Stadium.
Without six of the heroes from last year’s premiership win, it was fitting that two of the Panthers’ rising stars – winger Taylan May and centre Izack Tago – stepped up and contributed with a brace and a try apiece.
Penrith beat South Sydney 26-12 on Friday in their first meeting since last season’s Grand Final
Liam Martin and Stephen Crichton, who scored the match-winning try in last year’s decider, also crossed, with Campbell Graham and Cody Walker responding for Souths.
The defeat leaves the Rabbitohs with just one win from their opening four games under new coach Jason Demetriou.
Penrith began in ominous fashion as Cleary returned from off-season shoulder surgery.
He showed no signs of rust – except for missing his first three kicks at goal – as he linked with Jarome Luai all night.
Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary made his long-awaited return to action against Souths
Stephen Crichton, who scored the match-winning try in last year’s Grand Final, crossed again
Campbell Graham (left) scored Souths’ first try but the visitors could not hang on
Luai sparked the Panthers’ fast start as he skipped down the left and set up Tago for the opener before Cleary sent Crichton in untouched on the other flank.
Graham hit back for Souths before May burrowed over in the 19th minute to put Penrith 12-6 up.
The hosts could have been much further ahead were it not for Cleary’s uncharacteristically misfiring goalkicking.
Souths looked to have made him pay for his off day when Lachlan Ilias stepped over right in front of the sticks, only for Rabbitohs prop Tom Burgess to be penalised for impeding the Panthers’ defence.
Penrith winger Taylan May (centre) crashed over to score in the 49th minute
Before the referee intervened to award Penrith an eight-point try after he deemed Rabbitohs halfback Lachlan Ilias (left) had slammed his foot into May’s face
Rabbitohs firebrand Latrell Mitchell was largely ineffective on a difficult night for his team
Taane Milne and Cameron Murray both went close just before half-time and the Rabbitohs would come to rue their inability to break the Panthers’ defence after the break.
After Penrith trapped them in goal, the Rabbitohs took a short dropout which failed to pay off before May slid in out side on the next Panthers set to open up a comfortable buffer, with Cleary adding the extras.
To add insult to injury, Ilias left a boot on the Panthers winger as he touched down which caused referee Ashley Klein to give Penrith a penalty which Cleary converted from right in front.
Walker hit back for Souths but any hope was short lived when Luai put in a perfectly-weighted kick into the in-goal for Martin to pounce on and wrap up victory.