It’s possibly a little too early to be writing this article but with the minor premiership secured and a week out from the finals, the signs are just too real.
Penrith have beaten Canberra 28-12 to match the club’s record of eight straight wins, again proving they are the real deal in the NRL in 2020.
Penrith matched the feats of club royalty after a half-hour hit-and-run on Canberra set up a 28-12 domination.
In what shaped as another acid test of the Panthers’ premiership credentials, Penrith blew Canberra out of the water with a 24-0 first half at home.
The win drew them level with the club’s best winning streak set in 2003, while they also finish a fourth-straight round first on the ladder.
It makes for their longest stint at the top since 1991.
And the way the current side is playing, they look every bit as dangerous as those two sides that won the club’s only two premierships.
Nathan Cleary is in career-best form, Apisai Koroisau is clearly the buy of the year and their forward pack is humming with no real holes in their 17.
“I’m happy for the team to get some credit, I think they deserve it,” coach Ivan Cleary said.
“They’re working together as a team. The sum of the team is better than the value of each individual.
“That’s something to be proud of.”
Halfback Cleary was again brilliant on Saturday night, after previously helping them topple both Melbourne and the Sydney Roosters this year.
He became the youngest player to pass 700 NRL points since Graham Eadie in 1976 with his first goal.
His combination with Viliame Kikau is lethal when he isolates him one-on-one with defenders, while in defence he was superb holding man-mountain Josh Papalii up.
Canberra conceded the first 22 points of the game and it was Cleary and Kikau’s combination that got Penrith away when the halfback unleashed his second-rower from close range.
Koroisau had a hand in Penrith’s next, as he darted out of dummy-half and put Liam Martin through a big hole.
And while Penrith’s size and smarts are beating teams down in the middle, their speed and athleticism is doing the job out wide.
Stephen Crichton has ten tries in his past eight games and is now the NRL’s leading try-scorer with 12 despite only getting his starting spot in Round 3.
“Good things happen around him,” Cleary said.
It was almost irresistible to not pick him on his return (from the COVID break).
“There’s so much more to come too. Looking forward to that.”
Penrith’s right is just as dangerous, with a Brent Naden classic on halftime the tenth try to be scored on that wing in five weeks.
The Raiders, meanwhile, weren’t as bad as the scoreline suggested.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad had a nervous start at the back on return from a gruesome finger injury, but scored both of the team’s second-half tries.
He didn’t celebrate his first as it appeared he could have been held up, but the bunker was unable to overturn the on-field call of try.
“He was great,” coach Ricky Stuart said.
“I talk about contribution a lot and his contributions are always very healthy.”
A bigger concern is Saliva Havilli’s left tricep after he left the field early with Canberra at risk of losing a second hooker after Josh Hodgson.
The loss leaves them fifth, two points behind the Roosters in the race for the top four and with a far inferior for-and-against.