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Tevita Pangai jnr phoned Michael Maguire to reject Wests Tigers' advances last month, but there were no such pleasantries as the Panthers recruit bashed and barged his new side into a surprise shot at the minor premiership.

Pangai's second outing in Penrith colours yielded the Panthers three tries during his bruising initial 24-minute stint, the ex-Bronco instrumental in transforming a 6-6 deadlock into a comfortable 30-16 win.

Penrith's win wasn't by the home straight that their $1.01 pre-game odds indicated but, coming after a surprise Storm loss on Saturday, it drew the Panthers level with them on 42 points all the same.

Given Melbourne still enjoy a 131-point for-and-against advantage, Penrith will require a Cronulla upset in the final round and a win over the Eels to pinch the JJ Giltinan Shield from their 2020 grand final rivals.

Coach Ivan Cleary insisted afterwards that week one of the finals remains Penrith's overwhelming priority.

"It's a great achievement. To finish the regular rounds on top shows you're the most consistent team throughout the year," he said.

"Having said that we'll do what's best for us to get ready for the first week. We won't make selections based on trying to get the minor premiership."

Out of this world from Pangai

Especially when a second v third week one finals clash would likely come against the Rabbitohs without Latrell Mitchell, whereas finishing first would potentially pit the minor premiers up against Manly, the NRL's dark horses.

In any case, with Brian To'o (syndesmosis) and James Fisher-Harris (personal reasons) back on deck against the Tigers, Penrith were at full-strength for the first time since early May.

But it was their most recent addition in Pangai – signed on a short-term deal after he plumped for Canterbury in 2022 over the Tigers a month ago – who made the biggest dint amid a slew of uncharacteristic Penrith fumbles.

After rival front-rowers Moses Leota and Stefano Utoikamanu had traded rare tries to open proceedings, the Tigers maintained a rarely seen defensive resolve throughout the first 30 minutes.

Utoikamano especially caught the eye as he sat Viliame Kikau of all people on his backside, but Pangai's injection from the bench answered with impact and then some.

Recruited specifically for the X-factor he can offer in a tight contest, Pangai had cracked 100 running metres within 18 minutes of taking the field.

No run did more damage than when Pangai took on three defenders from close range, two of them dropping off the tackle as Jacob Liddle attempted a one-on-one strip.

Luai uses his run game to break through

Pangai duly put the foot down and promptly put Penrith on the front foot.

"That's why we got him here," Cleary said of the bullocking forward.

"There were some good signs there today. It's only his second game in nine weeks and only his second game for us too.

"So it's always going to take a little bit of time, it'd be good to get another game in next week.

"Every time he trains with us, every time he plays with us he just gets that little bit clearer on his role and where he fits in."

Jake Simpkin burrows over

Pangai's new Bulldogs-bound teammate Matt Burton was on for all money to add another try before the break, only to be stopped short by a superb cover tackle from David Nofoaluma.

It stayed 12-6 until half-time, but not for long afterwards as Jarome Luai sold Luke Brooks a dummy and dotted down.

From there Penrith remained a class above, Nathan Cleary especially after a few nervy moments to start.

A sixth-minute grubber drilled into the upright led to Leota regathering for his opening try and offset a rare early fumble from the halfback.

By day's end Cleary had another two try assists and five goals from as many attempts, becoming the second youngest player behind Manly legend Graham Eadie to bring up 1000 points in the process.

Second-half tries to Kikau and To'o helped the Panthers cruise to a comfortable win, late salvos in reply from Jake Simpkin and Ken Maumalo doing little beyond adding some respectability to the scoreboard.

Press Conference: Panthers v Wests Tigers - Round 24, 2021

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