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Tevita Pangai Jnr has starred as Brisbane provided a glimpse into the future against a helpless Penrith at Suncorp Stadium.
The near-perfect Broncos completed 20 of 21 sets in the first half on Friday night to leap to a 32-0 lead and finish 50-18 victors to all but confirm an NRL finals berth.
Pangai Jnr (two tries) was unstoppable in his 31-minute comeback from a hamstring niggle, while Jamayne Isaako, who signed a four-year deal on Thursday, was electric in the No.1.
“I’m in the risk business,” Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett said of the tactical play to move captain Darius Boyd from fullback.
“It was pretty obvious we were good … but we can’t afford to go around and tell ourselves we were sensational.”
Luckless Canberra’s tight 28-24 loss earlier in the night left them three wins adrift of the Broncos in ninth and left Brisbane level with four teams, including Penrith, on 11 wins.
The hosts scored five tries in a mistake-free first 35 minutes as destructive young backrower Pangai Jnr dominated.
The 22-year-old benefited from a neat Sam Thaiday offload before taking five Panthers over for his second as Kodi Nikorima pulled the strings in the background.
The halfback toed a kick through from an Anthony Milford chip that was regathered by a flying James Roberts before Pangai Jnr’s second and a soft Corey Oates try made it 26-0 in the 23rd minute.
Boyd, playing in the centres for the first time in 10 years, picked up the crumbs when another Milford kick was spilled by a pair of chasing Panthers.
Waqa Blake opened the scoring in the second half for the Panthers before Josh Mansour scored on his NRL return.
But it was only a blip in an otherwise one-sided night as Nikorima’s two intercept tries iced the contest.
Penrith have now lost four of their past five and gone from top-four regulars to equal eighth on wins but coach Anthony Griffin says they have time to turn it around.
“Everything (went wrong). It was one of those halves,” Griffin said.
“Everything they touched turned to gold and everything we touched went the other way.”
Off-contract Pangai Jnr’s stocks will only rise after his dominant showing in a week when raw 18-year-old teammate Payne Haas signed a five-year, $3.4 million extension.
However, Bennett is confident he, along with Matt Lodge and Jaydn Su’A, will remain at Red Hill, with fellow 18-year-old David Fifita in a young core already showing plenty.