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Cleary reigns supreme as Panthers shut out Sharks


Martin Lenehan, NRL Senior Journalist

After the Broncos' win over the Roosters on Thursday night they went to the top for 48 hours but the defending champs flexed their muscle at BlueBet Stadium to put themselves in poll position for a third minor premiership in four years.

Five minutes into the game the Panthers took the lead when a Nathan Cleary grubber rebounded to Scott Sorensen who found Jarome Luai and the five-eighth plunged over to score.

A massive blow for the Sharks shortly after when fullback Will Kennedy was forced from the field with a hamstring injury but they dug deep to keep the Panthers at bay until the 21st minute when another Cleary kick led to a try for Isaah Yeo and the home side led 12-0.

A 40-20 kick by Cleary in the 29th minute put the Panthers on the attack and a quick shift to the right led to a try for Brian To'o, the Origin winger's 12th try of the season. Cleary converted for 18-0.

The Sharks came within inches of conceding a fourth try in the 37th minute when Sione Katoa dropped the ball in-goal but managed to ground the ball before Luai could get his hand to it.

Nine minutes into the second term the Panthers went further ahead when Sunia Turuva finished off a superb team try to take the score out to 22-0.

After signing a new long-term deal with the Panthers this week, World Cup winning back-rower Liam Martin celebrated with a try in the 62nd minute when he chased down a Cleary kick to grab the home side's fifth of the night.

With two minutes to play, Cleary capped a kicking masterclass with his second 40-20 of the night to go with three forced dropouts and two try assists.

Try as they might the Sharks were unable to crack the NRL's best defence, the Panthers conceding just 12.4 points per game in 2023.

The Sharks have now lost six of their past seven clashes with Penrith and are in danger of slipping out of the top eight should they lose to the Rabbitohs in Perth in Round 23.

It's a huge showdown they will go into without Kennedy, who is facing several weeks out with a torn hamstring.

Match Snapshot

  • The Panthers completed 25 of 27 sets at 92 per cent in the first half as they set up an 18-point lead.
  • Sharks lock Cameron McInnes made a whopping 51 tackles in the first half and finished the night with 83 to break the NRL record for most tackles in a match.
  • Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary came up with his second 40-20 kick of the season in the 29th minute and then his third in the 78th minute.
  • Panthers centre Tyrone Peachey was placed on report and sent to the bin in the 59th minute for dangerous contact.
  • Sharks prop Braden Hamlin-Uele was placed on report in the 64th minute for a dangerous tackle.
  • Nathan Cleary controlled the game superbly with two try assists, three tackle breaks, 122 run metres and 786 kick metres.
  • The Sharks have not won at BlueBet Stadium since 2018.
  • Panthers second-rower Scott Sorensen played his 100th NRL game.
  • James Fisher-Harris was huge up front for Penrith with 143 metres from 18 runs.
  • Panthers five-eighth Jarome Luai came up with 12 tackle breaks.
  • Sharks centre Jesse Ramien had 18 runs for 120 metres and broke six tackles.

Play of the Game
Panthers winger Sunia Turuva did a stack of clean-up work in the first half and was rewarded with a try early in the second term when he finished off some great lead-up work by Matt Eisenhuth, Scott Sorensen, Jarome Luai and Tyrone Peachey. It was Eisenhuth who kept the ball alive with a late offload and Sorensen who came up with a deft flick pass, the Panthers' forwards showing excellent ball skills

What they Said
"That was our first 'zero' for the year and that's something we definitely like to do. Defensively I thought we were really good tonight. I thought we controlled field position and possession. We got a little bit lucky with Will Kennedy going off. I thought we got a little bit frantic when he went off, our eyes lit up with some changes out on the edges there. Some things from the attacking view we could fix but all in all our defence was really good. We value defence here, we practice it a lot, we talk about it a lot and tonight it was really strong." - Panthers coach Ivan Cleary

"Switching players from one side of the field to the other to get a job done [after Will Kennedy went off], it was difficult. He has a decent hamstring tear I think. You don't want to get a to a point where you are happy about getting beaten 28-0 but we had so many things go against us... we felt like we were just defending the whole game. We didn't honour the fundamentals of the game - errors and discipline - but we had full heart and full of effort for the amount of defence we had to do." - Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon

What's Next
The Panthers have a monster Friday night showdown at home against the Storm in Round 23 while the Sharks trek across the country to Perth to face the Rabbitohs, the team that knocked them out of last year's title race in week two of the finals.

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