Star playmaker Nathan Cleary has returned from off-season shoulder surgery to lead Penrith Panthers to 26-12 victory over South Sydney Rabbitohs in a rematch of the 2021 NRL Grand Final rivals.
The outcome will consolidate Penrith's position as the only unbeaten team after four rounds of the 2022 competition - every other club has at least one loss midway through the round.
"We've played some good teams and had some good wins," observed Panthers coach Ivan Cleary. "It's early days but we’ll take it."
The Panthers were quickly on top of their rivals, with centre Izack Tago scoring in just the second minute, then Stephen Crichton doubling the lead moments later. A third try - all unconverted by Nathan Cleary - to winger Taylan May gave the champions a 12-6 lead at halftime.
"I thought we started pretty well and Souths came us pretty hard tonight," said Ivan Cleary.
"First half, I thought we looked really good - It was a bit of a shootout there. I thought both sides were looking pretty good.
"I thought our defence wasn’\'t where it needed to be, but we scrambled pretty well."
May had his second try of the match soon after the restart, with second-rower Liam Martin setting the seal on victory - both converted by Nathan Cleary.
Campbell Graham and Cody Walker had tries for Souths, both converted by Latrell Mitchell, but they now linger in the bottom half of the table, with just one win from four matches.
"At the moment we're a team who is chasing when we're behind," said Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou. "We're not comfortable being a try behind.
"I feel like we're chasing points and doing things we shouldn't be doing.
"We've lost three games and all three we've had a 63 percent completion rate. We're not going to be at the top end of where we want to be. if we don't tidy that up."
Penrith Panthers 26 (May 2, Tago, Crichton, Martin tries; Cleary 2 conversions & penalty) South Sydney Rabbitohs 12 (Graham, Walker tries; Mitchell 2 conversions)
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