A star-studded Penrith side was boosted by the inclusion of Bryce Cartwright, but it was the return of Tyrone May fresh from making his NRL debut eight days earlier and the silky skills of fullback Jarome Luai that enabled Penrith to effortlessly make it six wins on the trot to consolidate third spot in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW after a resounding 48-18 win over Illawarra at Pepper Stadium.
The game was a good as over at half-time when Penrith through their classy halves Darren Nicholls and May engineered a 18-point lead, with the five-eighth scoring a double, before Jarome Luai tore the opposition to shreds in the second half, having a hand in three of Penrith’s five tries.
The win also continues the Panthers' recent dominance over Illawarra, having defeated the defending premiers 28-6 in the opening round of the season, but in fairness to the visitors they lost the likes of Mose Masoe, Tyrone McCarthy and Kalifa FaiFai Loa pre-game against a Panthers side fielding the likes of Bryce Cartwright, Mitch Rein and Sitaleki Akauola.
After a slow start to a game punctuated by early penalties favouring the away team, a classy Bryce Cartwright offload deep inside his own half put Tom Eisenhuth down the right touchline before Rein was pulled down by some desperate Illawarra cover defence close to the try line.
But it was to no avail as Nicholls, in the very next play, went to the line before finding May running off his shoulder to score in the 17th minute to put Penrith in front 6-0.
May soon had his double when he combined again with Nicholls close to the try line to double Penrith’s lead after 26 minutes.
Illawarra, although outclassed in the opening half, would have been happy to have gone to the sheds just trailing by 12 but Jarome Luai had other ideas as he combined with Jed Cartwright for the first of his two tries with the last play of the half.
Penrith started the second half the way they finished the first with Jed Cartwright completing his double in the opening set, again the beneficiary of the leadup work of Jarome Luai to push the lead out to 24-0.
And the game was well and truly over when Maika Sivo continued his rich try-scoring form, notching up his seventh try from just five starts when he finished off a movement that again heavily featured Luai, to push the Panthers out to 30 with more than half an hour still remaining.
Bryce Cartwright’s return to the field after a 45-minute break paid further dividends for the home side, setting up Liam Martin in the 56th minute with a typical offload before scoring himself from close range after taking a Nicholls offload.
Illawarra finally got themselves on the scoreboard in the 68th minute through halfback Jack Payne who finished off a fine attacking raid down Penrith’s left edge to score next to the posts.
Normal service resumed when Jarome Luai capped a fine game, trailing through to collect a Liam Coleman grubber kick to score as the Panthers got to within two points of reaching 50 for the game.
But Illawarra added some respectability to the final score, with tries to Jesse Dee (70th minute) and Josh Kerr with the last play of the game that saw the Panthers run out comfortable winners, 48-18.
The win ensures the Panthers continue to hold down a spot in the top three as they look to next Saturday’s showdown with league leaders, Wyong, while Illawarra will need to revive their fading finals hopes quickly when they head north to McDonald Jones Stadium to take on Newcastle.
Penrith Panthers 48 (T May 2, J Cartwright 2, M Sivo, L Martin, B Cartwright, J Luai tries; D Nicholls 8 goals) def Illawarra 18 (J Payne, J Dee, J Kerr tries; T Milne 3 goals)