The Panthers beat the Broncos 40-12 thanks to a masterclass from Nathan Cleary who returned to his best at Bluebet Stadium.
Kotoni Staggs produced a try assist from nothing with a barn run to put Tesi Niu over the top to give the Broncos a 6-0 lead early.
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The Panthers fought back with Jarome Luai diving from close range to lock the scores at 6-6 after 22 minutes.
The Broncos were denied a try against Staggs after he dropped the ball on an attempted takedown by grubber Tesi Niu.
Niu then injured his hamstring while chasing a kick with Nathan Cleary saving the day for the Panthers by hitting the dead ball.
The Broncos defense was again breached minutes before halftime with Scott Sorensen producing a long-range try to put the Panthers in a 12-6 halftime lead.
Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards and Broncos prop Keenan Palasia were then sent to the trash after a push and shove reduced the two sides to 12 men.
At the back of the double sin, Api Koroisau set up Charlie Staines for a try in the corner to make it 16-6 with 25 to play.
Nathan Cleary produced a monster cross kick for Taylan May to score to make it 22-6.
“The Panthers are the best show in town,” said Andrew Voss.
Liam Martin came through with 20 minutes to go all but seal the result at 28-6.
Kotoni Staggs scored a consolation try for the Broncos but it was too little too late.
Spencer Leniu crashed in from close range to make it 34-12.
Staggs gave the Panthers a late penalty try after pushing Tago in the back to make it 40-12.
Here are the main takeaways from the game.
CLEARY AND LUAI COMBINATION BACK TO HIS BEST
It may have taken a few weeks for Nathan Cleary to get up to speed after his long injury layoff, but his combination with Jarome Luai should make the rest of the NRL balls sweat.
Cleary had 110 yards running, a line break, two assists and three assists as he also denied a try to Tesi Niu in the first half.
However, it was his assist for a four-point Taylan May that had fans screaming in disbelief.
Cleary grabbed the ball from around 15 yards before throwing a low, wide cross kick for May to pick it up inches before the touchline and run and score under the posts.
“Nathan Cleary kicked Taylan May, what a try,” Voss said.
” Which side. The animators. Penrith the best show in town. Stunning.
“It’s the kind of game that tomorrow children around Penrith will try the same kick.”
Michael Ennis pointed out the difficulty of Cleary’s abnormal play.
“Nathan Cleary just directs that kick down the field,” Ennis said.
“The Broncos defense is flat. It has a minimum margin of error. He just cut it in half and it skidded and got stuck in May’s left hand.
Luai was superb in Cleary’s absence and he continued his own form as he set the tone for the Panthers by scoring the first try of the night.
“Luai walks and serves himself,” Voss said.
“There is another one for the left foot death step.
“What a player he developed into Jarome Luai. He was a substitute and now he’s a representative of Origin and a big winner in the final.
Ennis believes Luai has matured in Cleary’s absence and it’s a good sign for Panthers fans now that the band is back.
“Majestic little No. 6 lighting up the foot of the mountain,” Ennis said of Luai’s try.
“He comes off that left foot and straightens up the attack. He just cuts hard and straight inside straight through Palasia’s tackle.
“He says let’s go boys. Friday night in the spotlight and it was Jarome Luai who put the Panthers on the board and brought them straight back into the competition.
“To see his growth to start the year without Cleary and lead his team and help Sean O’Sullivan in this opening month.
“Six assists to start the season. He really stepped up his creativity on that left side.
“He has a nice connection with Kikau and develops a great combination with Tago early on.”
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LATE BLOOMER STARS WITH AN AMAZING ESSAY
Scott Sorensen may be a 29-year-old NRL journeyman, but he produced one of the great individual tries against the Broncos in a superb display off the bench.
Sorensen ran over 100 yards in the first half and finished with 185 and he showed Jordan Riki and full-back Selwyn Cobbo in a scintillating run to the line before half-time.
“It’s gorgeous from Sorensen,” Voss said.
“Where did this come from? Take a look at the reaction and why not? This is only the third try of his career.
“Step and speed. Was it Jarome Luai? Was it Crichton? Was it Edwards? No, it’s Scott Sorensen.
Michael Ennis hailed Sorensen’s evolution from a fringe first year with the Sharks to a vital cog in the reigning premiers’ machine.
“It was brilliant and very necessary for the Panthers,” Ennis said.
“It’s Yeo who is playing the ball and they are worried about the outside with Kikau and Sorensen comes back up and cuts his left foot.
“What acceleration for a great man. Some of the unheralded stars of this Panthers team.
“Some of the guys that aren’t brought up because of the brilliance of the team. Throw Sorensen in there.
“Look at it, just flip Riki and the acceleration and no hesitation in taking the line.
“If he could have ripped off his jersey Superman style, he would have.
“123 meters covered in the first half from the bench.
“It was a huge effort on his part. Look at that left foot step. Just buckle Riki and just pin the ears.
“He doesn’t even look at Selwyn Cobbo and just takes it.”
Ennis praised Sorensen for never giving up on his rugby league career which is why he seems to be improving with age at the end of his career.
“It’s a great story,” Ennis said.
“He went there as a guy to basically fill a number in the roster.
“He went out there and impressed them with his work rate and he took his opportunities.
“From a guy who used to play for Newtown and sometimes Cronulla, he is now part of the best team in the competition.
“One of the nicest guys in the competition too. Great work ethic. True professional. Looks after himself and relishes the opportunity at Penrith.
“It’s a great story and it’s great to see Sorensen playing so well there.”
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STAGGS DOMINATES TAGO IN THE BATTLE OF THE CENTERS
He may have been on a beaten team, but Kotoni Staggs continued his return to form with a superb display of power, which will give his opponent Izack Tago nightmares.
Staggs set up the first try for Tesi Niu with a brilliant home run that showed Tago.
“There’s a rattler in the cage,” Voss said.
“Kotoni Staggs can damage and put a dent in the best of defenses and he did it there.
“The strength and balance of Kotoni Staggs.”
Michael Ennis challenged Staggs to back up his performance against the Roosters this week and he more than answered the call, albeit on a badly beaten team in the end.
“It was a brutal performance last week,” Ennis said.
“He absolutely terrorized Paul Momirovski and once again it was Adam Reynolds sending an early ball to Kotoni Staggs.
“We talked earlier about the battle between Staggs and Tago and this time it’s Kotoni Staggs just being too powerful.
“Great footwork and he moves his body out to get away from Tago, then the one-handed pass inside was special and Tesi Niu slides in oily conditions.
“There’s nothing on it. The Panthers line was fast, but there was just the slightest gap outside of Tago and the way Staggs can move for a big man.
“The power he has and he carried his confidence from last week.”
Benji Marshall and Greg Alexander marveled at Staggs’ performance, especially in the first half on both sides of the ball.
“When Staggs gets a good shot early, he’s dangerous,” Marshall said.
“Staggs had an outstanding 40-minute opener,” Alexander said.
“On the back of what he did last week in easily his best game of the season.
“We talked about the battle between him and Izack Tago and Izack had his hands full trying to defend Kotoni.
“The Broncos gave the ball to Kotoni in the right situations with Izack moving to the side.
“Staggs came very close to a try and dropped the ball at the last moment.
“Some Staggs defenses have been pretty brutal.”
Staggs scored a try in the second half and finished with 101 yards running, seven tackle saves, a line break, two assists, a try and a try.
Penrith Panthers host Brisbane Broncos in a blockbuster Good Friday clash at Bluebet Stadium.
The Panthers are expected to field the same 17 for the third straight week as they aim to maintain their undefeated start to the season.
Nathan Cleary will be looking to take his game to the next level after a quiet few weeks since returning from injury.
All five Panthers defensemen have been on fire with Stephen Crichton and Izack Tago forming a deadly center partnership and Taylan May replacing Brian To’o with ease.
The Broncos will be without star prop Payne Haas due to a suspension for his altercation with Albert Kelly, with Corey Jensen taking his place.
Corey Oates and Adam Reynolds will play through leg injuries in the loss to the Roosters last week.
That sets the stage for a crucial matchup as the Broncos try to stay in touch with the top eight and the Panthers aim to hold on to the top spot.
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