Nathan Cleary has steered Penrith to an impressive 34-22 victory over the Warriors at Mount Smart Stadium.
On a night of high emotion with the Warriors bidding farewell to club legend Manu Vatuvei, the Panthers looked in trouble early when the home side went over in the opening minutes.
But with Matt Moylan ruled out of the game with a hamstring injury, Cleary took control of the contest, leading the side to an 18-12 half-time lead.
Moylan’s replacement, Tyrone May, scored a try in his debut NRL match to help the Panthers to the lead at the break.
The Warriors scored first in the second half after Corey Harawira-Naera was controversially sin-binned for a professional foul.
“That’s nearly the softest thing I’ve seen since 1908,” said Fox League commentator Steve Roach.
Penrith maintained an 18-16 lead after the conversion attempt was missed, but the loss of Harawira-Naera hurt the Panthers hard, with the Warriors going over again through Bodene Thompson to see the home side regain the lead.
The Panthers desperately needed a breakthrough and with 12 minutes left, Reagan Campbell-Gillard popped a beautiful ball to Dylan Edwards who raced down field before passing to Cleary, who scored next to the posts to give Penrith the lead.
Cleary was over again soon after, bagging his third try for the night with a beautiful individual effort to secure Penrith the crucial win.
The win was well and truly confirmed when Waqa Blake collected the crumbs from a bomb to score in the final minutes.
The Panthers have big concerns over forward Trent Merrin, who missed the entire second half after suffering a leg injury while setting up Tyrone May’s first half try.
The Warriors meanwhile lost Shaun Johnson in the second half to a knee injury.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.