A barnstorming second-half display from Viliame Kikau has again fired Penrith to victory as they downed the Dragons 32-28 at Netstrata Jubilee Oval on Friday night.
Following on from his heroics against premiers the Roosters, the explosive second-rower steamrolled in for a crucial try in the 68th minute when the Panthers were losing by 10.
Interchange fullback Stephen Crichton then broke the line on the next set, passing to Liam Martin before getting the ball back to land the match-winner.
Halfback Nathan Cleary was also fantastic for Penrith, scoring a try, assisting another and keeping a flawless goal-kicking record.
But until Kikau and Crichton intervened, it seemed returning Dragons fullback Matt Dufty would be the hero for his try double.
Dufty, playing his first match for the season after fracturing his cheekbone at the NRL Nines, scored a sizzling 90-metre intercept try and another that put the Dragons ahead in the second half.
There may not have been a crowd at the venue due to the coronavirus lockouts but the Saints weren't completely devoid of home support, with a few fervent fans cheering loudly from outside.
Match: Dragons v Panthers
Round 2 -
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
St George Illawarra trailed 12-0 after 15 minutes and it initially seemed Penrith were going to romp in for a big win.
Api Koroisau burrowed over from dummy-half to open the Panthers' account before Nathan Cleary breezed past some brittle defence from Ben Hunt and Tyson Frizell to score next.
The Mountain Men nearly skipped further ahead but James Fisher-Harris's offload to Viliame Kikau was ruled forward.
Dufty takes an intercept and runs 90 metres
With the temperature above 30 degrees at Kogarah, the teams and match officials were afforded a drinks break at the 20-minute mark but the pause did little to quell the Panthers' roll.
But just as they looked set to score when Isaah Yeo busted the line, Dufty cleverly snatched an offload and scorched away to put his team on the board.
Topped up with confidence, the Red V showed renewed resolve to repel a Penrith raid and then bagged another four-pointer.
Winger Jordan Pereira was given a clear run down the left touchline following a lovely pass by Corey Norman. Pereira linked with the supporting Brayden Wiliame, who collected his first try as a Dragon.
St George Illawarra continued the stunning change in fortunes in the 36th minute after Penrith winger Josh Mansour gambled on an offload in his own end and lost.
Tim Lafai swooped on the errant ball and shovelled it on for Zac Lomax to cross on the right edge before slotting the goal.
A spectacular diving effort from Pereira was disallowed on the stroke of half-time due to Wiliame's forward pass.
Cleary slices through on the left
Dufty almost paid the price for being very casual as Panthers centre Brent Naden zoomed towards a well-weighted Jarome Luai kick, only for the Saints No.1 to boot the Steeden dead at the last second.
However, Naden wouldn't be denied moments later from another kick – this time a Cleary grubber – and the halfback's conversion put the Panthers back in front.
Dufty went over from close-range to hand the advantage to St George Illawarra before Corey Norman etched his name on the scoreboard when he pounced on a Hunt kick.
But Kikau barged across from a Josh Mansour offload and Crichton stepped up to ensure the Dragons remained winless to start 2020.
The result added to a special night for Panthers halfback Cleary, who leapfrogged Preston Campbell (613) into fourth on the club's all-time point-scoring list.