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Waqa Blake makes a break against the Roosters.

A Nathan Cleary masterclass has propelled the Panthers back into the Telstra Premiership top eight courtesy of a 38-18 win over a Roosters side missing Mitchell Pearce. 

Nathan Cleary is the best young talent in the game 

This time last year, Nathan Cleary was five games into his Holden Cup career. He was young and raw, but you could already see that he had plenty of talent. 

Fast forward to Monday night, and the 18-year-old Panthers halfback put in the sort of performance that most people expect to see from playmakers with 10 seasons under their belt. 

Cleary destroyed the Roosters with a try, two assists, a pair of line breaks, six tackle breaks and 232 kick metres to go with his five conversions. 

He got the ball rolling inside five minutes with a show and go from close to the line to open the scoring, and that early carry set the tone for an impressive running night that yielded 84 metres. 

The bulk of those yards came midway through the second half when he backed up an offload from Bryce Cartwright to split the defensive line, before putting in an incredible kick to the left corner that hit Tyrone Peachey on the chest for him to score his second of the night. 

Praising someone as young as Cleary can be fraught with danger, but if he keeps this form up, there is every chance he can surpass Gold Coast's Ashley Taylor for Rookie of the Year. 



Mitchell was the missing 'Pearce' of the puzzle

He wouldn't have won them the game, but the loss of Mitchell Pearce before kick-off made it almost impossible for the Roosters to leave Pepper Stadium with the two competition points.

The former NSW Blues halfback was ruled out with a calf injury and his absence was telling with the Tricolours lacking direction at times when in attack.

The inexperienced pairing of Connor Watson and Ryan Matterson had their moments on Monday night but you could tell they missed Pearce's classy touches. 

The Tricolours are 2-6 with him in the side in 2016, but are just 2-10 when he has been absent. They'll need him on the park this Sunday against Johnathan Thurston and his Cowboys. 


Peter Wallace channels Braveheart

Family tree experts are encouraged to find out whether Peter Wallace is related to Scottish legend William Wallace. 

The Panthers No.9 represented the Scots at the 2013 World Cup and showed plenty of the traits that made his namesake famous all those centuries ago.

His toughness is second to none, and you get the feeling his younger teammates feed off his leadership and will to fight through the pain.  

The 30-year-old was battered and bruised on Monday night but still managed to churn out 29 tackles and 107 kick metres out of dummy-half despite being belted by Roosters enforcer Kane Evans in the second half. 

Jake Friend is a tackling machine

The above statement isn't breaking news, but Friend's work rate is simply unbelievable. 

Friend made 55 tackles in just 66 minutes to extend his lead at the top of the list with 144 more than his nearest rival (Mitch Rein). 

He's the only player in the NRL to make over 1,000 tackles in 2016 and he looks set to add plenty more before the year is finished. 

Roosters coach Trent Robinson admitted a few weeks ago that he'd rather see his skipper be less involved in defence, but revealed a season-ending injury to new recruit Ian Henderson forced his hand. 


Every point counts in such a close competition

In such a tight race for the finals, points differential will undoubtedly dictate where certain teams finish after the regular season.   

Up by 32 points with 10 minutes remaining, the Panthers blew a golden opportunity to put the foot down and push for more tries.

Instead, they allowed the Roosters to cross for a couple of consolation tries that might have seemed insignificant at the time, but meant Penrith only bettered its for and against by 20. 

They are currently in seventh spot on the ladder, 10 points clear of the Warriors who are level on wins, and will be keen to add to their differential when they take on the Knights this Sunday. 


Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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