Pangai's X-factor propels Panthers to Tigers triumph

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 way to ominous finals form.

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.

With Brian To'o (syndesmosis) and James Fisher-Harris (personal reasons) back on deck, 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 Utoikamano 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.

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




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Fellow 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.

Penrith's win keeps them in with a shot at the minor premiership, drawing them level with Melbourne on 42 competition points.

But given the Storm still enjoy a for and against advantage of more than 100 points, 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.


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Dan Walsh, Reporter