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Panthers five-eighth James Maloney.

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary said the side could take plenty of positives out of their 22-18 loss to the Rabbitohs on Friday night and labelled the performance as their best of the season. 

Putting aside the distraction of the Phil Gould saga, the Panthers pushed the Bunnies to the final siren and looked back to the sort of groove that has taken them to the finals for the past three seasons.

"It was easily our best performance," Cleary said.

"I could see the body language after the game, whilst disappointed, they could see they played alright. There's been a few other games this year it was a different look.

"I feel like it's something we can definitely build from. I felt we looked likely the whole game but just couldn't take our chances.

"Credit to Souths... it's a slick operation that they've got going. It's definitely disappointing we didn't get win but we'll take a lot out of that.

Match Highlights: Panthers v Rabbitohs

"A lot of players played their best games for us tonight."

The performance of 22-year-old dummy half Wayde Egan in just his 16th NRL game drew special praise from the coach.

Egan left the paddock for a head injury assessment in the first half but returned to offer sharp service around the ruck.

"I think the way he played tonight changed the way we attack," Cleary said.

"It's the first time we had that consistent roll over the advantage line. He's still finding his feet. It's just one of many positions. We haven't had many guys playing as good as they can.

Maloney gets the Panthers back in the game

"We've been close for a few weeks now. I felt we had much more rhythm."

The Panthers' shaky record to start the year is nothing new for Cleary.

He endured a 2-5 start in his first season in charge of the Panthers in 2012 before going on to finish 15th.

Their 2017 record proved anything is possible, however.

They dropped seven of their first nine rounds in the regular season before winning 11 of their next 13 games to reach the finals.

"It's not the start you want but it's certainly happened before. I've been in this position many times, too many actually," Cleary said.

"When you're in this position you can't win one game here or there, you've got to put a few together.

"What that performance showed me tonight is once you get the smell of winning we can put a few together.

"Hopefully we can start doing that soon."

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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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