The Penrith Panthers are perfect in 2021 with seven wins from seven games as the side bounce back from the Grand Final loss without missing a beat.
Ironically, the Panthers’ 24-6 win over the Knights made them the first side since 2012 to win their first seven games straight, with 2020 Grand Final vanquishers Melbourne the last team to achieve the feat. The Storm won nine straight to start the 2012 season.
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While the win wasn’t perfect for the Panthers, the side dominated the match relentlessly attacking the Newcastle line but being unable to find the last pass.
But while it wasn’t a blowout, the game was won on the back of the Panthers’ halves Jerome Luai and Nathan Cleary — and a 337m running performance from winger Brian To’o.
While all three have pushed their Origin credentials, it was the halves that once again pushed their case to partner in the halves for the Blues.
Taking on the line, Luai had 10 runs for 124m, while Cleary had 13 runs for 108m. They each had a line break assist and a try assist each, had offloads, defended strongly and put forward their case to try to win the Origin shield back for NSW.
That’s at least according to NRL great Matthew Johns who told The Late Show with Matty Johns that they wouldn’t look out of place representing NSW.
“The combination of Cleary and Luai, Brad Fittler and Greg Alexander are going to have a big decision because these two blokes seven and six for NSW, it might be early to talk about Origin, but Jerome Luai is electric,” Johns said. “Every time he touched the ball tonight, something happened.”
Bryan Fletcher also gave a wrap to Matt Burton with Penrith able to switch their attack to the left, after Stephen Crichton scored a mountain of tries on.
But Johns was taken with the halves calling Cleary “the best player in the competition at the moment and there’s a bit of daylight in second.”
“The thing about Nathan, the last couple of weeks, the Panthers haven’t been at their very very best,” Johns said. “They were a lot better tonight than last week but he gets them home with his know-how. Even in a game like tonight, every single touch was deliberate. He gets the ball, he takes on the line, his ability to find the right kick at the right time.”
They weren’t the only ones with former Queensland star Lote Tuqiri even saying it seemed a forgone conclusion.