Penrith fire up. Credit: Panthers social media.

Penrith stand tall in NRL blockbuster as 'confidence, cheekiness' grows in the community, according to coach Ivan Cleary.

Friday night at BlueBet Stadium was, without a doubt, the blockbuster event for round five of the NRL Telstra Premiership.

The undefeated Penrith Panthers hosted the Canberra Raiders at a sold-out stadium in near perfect conditions.

It was tough battle of attrition but in the end, Penrith would march on with 30-10 victory over the Raiders.

The 2021 Penrith Panthers are the benchmark team in the competition. They are a puzzle. Every player perfectly fits alongside the other.

They even have one of the most vocal, passionate and even craziest 19th player for their team. The fans.

“The fans definitely have an impact,” Coach Ivan Cleary told The Inner Sanctum after the game.

“I know our boys were very keen – they like to be a source of pride for our community. Our community’s fans, residents, ex-players and everybody.

“They might have got a little bit edgy tonight but in the end, it definitely adds – it helps you when it gets tough.

“Our community is getting a lot of confidence, a lot of cheekiness.”

On a night when the old boys of the Penrith Panthers were remembering the 30th anniversary of the club’s famous 1991 grand final win over Raiders, the crowd piled into the stands ready for a clash of the ages.

It was the visitors who struck first though with Jack Wighton barging his way through some average Panthers defence.

The Panthers were gifted opportunities to strike back – through errors and repeat sets – however, they struggled to complete their sets proving to be their own worst nightmares in the first twenty of the half.

Canberra threatened to pile on more points quickly – capitalising on a shocking error from Stephen Crichton who appeared shaky in Dylan Edwards’ spot at the back – however Jarrod Croker was unable to successfully ground the ball, letting Crichton off the hook.

The tides turned after tensions heated between the two teams with a tussle escalated between Viliame Kikau and Jordan Rapana which saw the Panthers granted an arguably questionable penalty.

Kikau powered into Rapana, on the ground, with his shoulder however whether it was a shoulder charge – by technical definition – is grainy. Rapana and then Hudson Young responded negatively which saw Penrith granted the penalty, much Kikau’s enjoyment. From that moment, momentum shifted massively.

Charlie Staines earned his second try of the year, scoring alongside the sideline which Cleary converted, tying the game up.

Jarome Luai went close to scoring after forcing Jordan Rapana to ground the ball in goal but just minutes later, he helped send Matt Burton over for his second of the year with a perfect cut out pass.

Itching for more points before halftime, it was again Luai rattling the Canberra edge scoring off his own kick and sending the Panthers into the sheds up by 12.

The Panthers came out firing in the second half however, the Raiders dug their heels into the dirt and held them out with the first 20 minutes of the half proving to be a real tug-o-war of possession.

The improved discipline proved detrimental for the men from the nation’s capital, striking first through Jarrod Croker successfully completing a set in the corner.

As extravagant as the put down was though, the Panthers looked to diminish any speak of a comeback with Charlie Staines grabbing his second of the night in an immediate strike back.

The Panthers were getting under the skin of the Raiders – even the fans mocking the infamous Viking Clap – and didn’t look like they wanted to ease up in any way. The Raiders, while still competing, appeared rattled.

With five minutes on the clock, Nathan Cleary cemented this scoring an intercept try and converting his fifth goal out of as many for the night helping to continue the club’s undefeated streak for one more week.

The terrifying reality of the Penrith Panthers is the fact that they are not a team controlled by one star player. They are the definition of a star-studded side. Despite missing the likes of Dylan Edwards and Api Koroisau, they look like they haven’t missed a beat.

Nathan Cleary is arguably the best halfback in the game but Jarome Luai keeps getting better as each week goes on too. Brian To’o is one of the most in form wingers in the competition currently and Stephen Crichton is continuing to amaze. The forward pack with the likes of James Fisher-Harris, Viliame Kikau, Isaah Yeo and Kurt Capewell are continually a force to be reckoned with. On top of that all, Matt Burton is turning heads in his final year at the club before departing for the Bulldogs.

This is no discredit to the Canberra Raiders side, however. This is a team that is still competing strong and looks incredibly frightening with the ball at times. They have a lot of fight and are without a doubt a dominant team in the competition.

After the loss, coach Ricky Stuart put it simply.

“We were beat by a better side.”

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