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'Critter' conundrum: Rookie's form gets Cleary thinking

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary admitted he has "some thinking to do" about how to use young gun Stephen Crichton after he was again outstanding off the bench on Friday.

Having scored in a round-one upset over the Roosters, Crichton had an instant impact when he replaced fullback Caleb Aekins in the second half of a 32-28 win against the Dragons in Kogarah.

Crichton's energy was infectious and he bagged the match-sealing try after busting the St George Illawarra defence, passing to Liam Martin and then getting the ball back.

"He's done pretty well, hasn't he? Critter's a talent, a good kid, he trained really hard [for] his first NRL pre-season, he's done really well there," Cleary said.

"We're happy to have him but I guess it's just finding a spot for him. It's been a good couple of weeks for him, he's actually come on and added something which we hoped he'd do."

Cleary said fellow fullback Dylan Edwards could return from an ankle injury in next round's away game against the Storm, leaving him with some options to ponder.

Match Highlights: Dragons v Panthers

"I think Stephen's definitely going to be part of the [starting] team at some point ... We don't want to rush him either, so we'll see," Cleary said.

Halfback Nathan Cleary also continued his strong start to 2020 with a try, an assist and six goals as his combination with new hooker Api Koroisau grew.

Back-rower Viliame Kikau, who crossed for his second match-turning try in as many weeks, singled out Cleary junior for praise.

"He's the sort of player you want in your team. He's a really clutch player. He does stuff that I don't think the crowd sees," Kikau told

Cleary slices through on the left

"Those little one percenters. Just pushing up ... stuff like that."

Penrith started fast against St George Illawarra with two unanswered tries but allowed the hosts into the game as errors crept in.

Trailing by 10 with 15 minutes left, the Panthers seemed destined for defeat until Kikau powered over the line following a Josh Mansour offload.

"We talked about being resilient and that's what we needed in the team," Kikau said.

"I just went back in there, got a lucky bounce and lucky again to get a meat pie this week. So I'm happy with that."

Coach Cleary was pleased with Penrith's ability to grind out the result despite not playing "anywhere near as well as last week".

Kikau said performing for an empty stadium due to the coronavirus lockout didn't affect him, while Cleary is grateful the premiership is still going.

"It was different ... Let's face it," the mentor said.

"But that's the way it is and that's the way it's going to continue. I imagine everyone will be better for it this week."

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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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