Panthers belt hapless Roosters
The Penrith Panthers have rocketed back into the Telstra Premiership top eight with a crucial 38-18 win over the Roosters in a replay of the classic 2003 Grand Final.
The 20-point win had added significance with the Panthers vastly improving their points differential to move into seventh spot on the ladder, although they will be kicking themselves after allowing two late tries.
Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary showed that age is just a number, scoring a try and setting up another one with a freakish bit of vision in what was his best 80-minute performance in the NRL.
The Roosters looked to have found form in recent weeks, but were dealt a massive blow with star halfback Mitchell Pearce ruled out before kick-off with a calf complaint.
His absence was telling from the outset, and it took just four minutes for the Panthers to get on the board with the hosts converting a Dale Copley error into a simple solo try for Cleary.
The Roosters centre recovered from his early mistake to level things up shortly after with Copley outpacing his opposite number to score his third try in two games.
Penrith looked to have reclaimed the lead when Waqa Blake scooped up a loose ball to score but the bunker agreed with the on-field decision that James Fisher-Harris had knocked on in the lead-up.
There was no denying them the next time around with some classy work on the inside by Cleary and Matt Moylan enough to send Tyrone Peachey over on his 25th birthday.
Penrith extended their lead in the shadows of half-time when destructive backrower Chris Grevsmuhl bashed his way over to make it 18-6; the same scoreline as their Grand Final win over the Tricolours.
It shouldn't have been the case, however, as Blake Ferguson's sensational run went unrewarded when Copley was bundled into touch agonisingly short of the try line to cost his side some momentum heading into the break.
Powerhouse winger Josh Mansour almost extended Penrith's lead two minutes into the second stanza, but teammate Bryce Cartwright made no such mistake from the next set to give his side some much needed breathing space.
Five-eighth mightn't be his long-term position, but Cartwright showed how dangerous he is with ball in hand to send Blake crashing over in the tight corner to blow the margin out to 22 points with half an hour remaining.
It's hard to believe that Nathan Cleary is still only 18-years-of-age. Having backed up an audacious offload from his halves partner, Cleary streaked into open pastures before having the foresight to kick crossfield for Peachey to gather and score one of the tries of the season.
That might have been a special team try, but Isaah Yeo needed no support 18 minutes from the end, breaking through some marshmallow defence from 45 metres out to make it 38-6.
Daniel Tupou and Boyd Cordner grabbed a couple of consolation tries for the visitors but it was a minor speedbump in an otherwise brilliant night at Pepper Stadium for the home side.
The night was slightly soured with skipper Matt Moylan (blurred vision) and Sitaleki Akauola (ribs) failing to see out the game.
Panthers 38 (Tyrone Peachey 2, Nathan Cleary, Chris Grevsmuhl, Bryce Cartwright, Waqa Blake, Isaah Yeo tries; Nathan Cleary 5 goals) defeated Roosters 18 (Dale Copley, Daniel Tupou, Boyd Cordner tries; Sio Siua Taukeiaho 3 goals) at Pepper Stadium. Half-time: 18-6 Panthers.