Penrith fullback Matt Moylan continued his magnificent maiden NRL season on Saturday night, outgunning NSW No.1 Josh Dugan to lift the Panthers to a 25-10 home win over St George Illawarra.
Moylan scored his side’s only try of the first half, provided much of their attacking spark and also made a couple of telling tackles at Centrebet Stadium.
Dugan was understandably below his best after being hammered by Queensland in State of Origin II on Wednesday night.
The 23-year-old’s hopes of bolstering his bid to retain the NSW fullback spot ahead of Jarryd Hayne weren’t helped by a second-half high shot from Penrith prop Tim Grant that left him dazed.
Jack de Belin scored his first NRL try when he broke the deadlock in the eighth minute after a couple of early handling errors from the hosts, and the Dragons had all the initial momentum.
It was Moylan who helped turn the tide with his creativity, bringing the Panthers into the game with a couple of deft passes and jinking runs.
The 22-year-old was rewarded with a try in the 24th minute when he latched onto a kick from halfback Luke Walsh, beat Dugan to the ball and burrowed under Nathan Fien, who failed to knock it dead.
Walsh gave Penrith a 7-6 halftime lead with the final play of the opening stanza, his second attempt at a field goal.
The home side started the second half brightly, with Clint Newton forcing a goal-line drop-out with an impressive tackle on Dugan.
Five-eighth Issac John then put Penrith further ahead, with try-scorer Brad Tighe and Matt Robinson both in a position to touch down after his pinpoint grubber.
Dragons No.6 Chase Stanley crossed in the 65th minute to give his side hope of reeling Penrith in, but Dugan missed the conversion to leave them behind 13-6.
After some resolute defending, the Panthers scored two tries in the final four minutes as James Roberts and James Segeyaro applied the icing in front of 6271 fans.
Walsh slotted all four of his conversions.
Mose Masoe and captain Kevin Kingston, two men who will leave the Panthers at the end of the season, were influential for the hosts.
Dragons prop Dan Hunt suffered a right knee injury.
“I think the ligaments are OK,” Dragons coach Steve Price said of Hunt.
“He’ll have scans in the week and hopefully it’s not too serious.”
Price lamented his side’s lack of polish.
“We put ourselves in positions to win the game … our execution at crucial times of the game really hurt us,” he said.
“There were far too many turnovers in crucial parts of the game and it’s not good enough at this level.”
The victory lifts the Panthers into the top eight and coach Ivan Cleary was happy with how his side fought out the game.
“They got the jump on us early, we made a few fundamental mistakes early but we ground our way to get a result,” Cleary said.
“They were on top early, kicking well and not making errors and we struggled to get out of our own end … it was probably the first time this year that we’ve won a game when we were a little bit off.”