Jarome Luai put on a show for Penrith’s maiden premiership heroes as he helped seal the club’s best start to a season with a 30-10 win over Canberra.
Arguably the form player of the opening month of the season, Luai was again the star on Friday night with his ninth try-assist of the campaign and one of his own.
The two plays came in a crucial six-minute period before halftime, as Luai swung the match in the Panthers’ favour after they struggled for ball early.
Young flyer Charlie Staines bagged a double on the right wing, while Brian To’o was as powerful on the left as James Fisher-Harris was in the middle.
Nathan Cleary then put the icing on the cake with a 70-metre intercept, after a Jarrod Croker four-pointer midway through the second half gave the Raiders a faint hope.
Cleary’s try capped a rough night for the Raiders, who lost hooker Josh Hodgson to a hip injury and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to concussion from a Viliame Kikau high shot.
The Raiders fullback had also looked groggy moments earlier after being collected by Isaah Yeo in a tackle but stayed on the field.
After they shot out of the blocks early through a Jack Wighton try, the Raiders let their lead slip when Staines got his first in the 27th minute.
And from then it was all Luai, as the Penrith crowd of 20,890 imitated Canberra’s Viking Claps and the Panthers went 5-0 for the first time in their history.
With only Greg Barwick missing from Penrith’s 1991 grand final winning side over Canberra in the grandstands, the five-eighth put on a performance Brad Fittler would’ve been proud of.
Penrith’s lead came when Luai put on a perfect cut-out ball for Matt Burton, allowing the make-shift centre to run a nice line to score.
Moments later just before half-time, he grubbered for himself and got the ball down in a play that demonstrated his confidence as much as anything.
The five-eighth was also denied another try when he pressured Jordan Rapana after a towering Cleary bomb, forcing a fumble in the in-goal area.
Luai was part of Fittler’s NSW squad for last year’s State of Origin series but did not earn a Blues debut.
But while Cody Walker is still the favourite to hold on to the number 6 jersey this year, Luai must surely be in the conversation to partner Nathan Cleary.
The duo are the form halves pairing of the NRL and have dropped just one game when playing alongside each other since last March.
Luai and Walker will face off in a round-11 blockbuster on May 23, just a week before Fittler is due to name his side for Origin I in Melbourne.
Sea Eagles get first win thanks to last-minute field goal
A last-second field goal from Daly Cherry-Evans has given Manly a dramatic 13-12 victory over the Warriors and delivered their first win of the NRL season.
The Sea Eagles were staring at a miserable fifth straight defeat to start the year when Sean O’Sullivan claimed a go-ahead try for the Warriors early in the second half in Gosford.
However youngster Josh Schuster levelled the scores with 20 minutes to go, setting up a thrilling finish where both sides struggled to land the knock-out punch.
O’Sullivan sprayed the Warriors’ only field goal attempt wide with five minutes remaining, while many were left scratching their heads when Schuster lined up his shot in the 79th minute.
The Warriors scrambled and charged down that kick.
However, Cherry-Evans stepped up shortly after to nail his field goal attempt and claim a morale-boosting win.
The victory was soured by a suspected hamstring injury to fullback Dylan Walker, whose pain was exacerbated by having his shorts pulled down by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in the same tackle.
Walker, filling in at the back for the injured Tom Trbojevic, limped off the field and failed to return.
Points were hard to come by for most of what was a scrappy first half at Central Coast Stadium, with two desperate Warriors tackles denying the Sea Eagles the first try.
It wasn’t until some out-of-the-box thinking from Cherry-Evans that the deadlock was finally broken.
Forced to drag his team out of trouble with early-play kicking, it was a 70-metre kick from a scrum that resulted in Jason Saab burning Ken Maumalo for the opening try in the 28th minute.
It was the first time the Sea Eagles had led in a game this season, but it lasted just three minutes as a Jack Murchie line break ended in Maumalo squaring the ledger for halftime.
The Warriors looked on their way to a win when O’Sullivan dummied past a tired Sean Keppie in the 46th minute for his try.
But Schuster set up an exciting finish when he pounced on a loose ball and got Manly back on level terms.