Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai have made an almost irresistible case to be the New South Wales halves pairing after leading Penrith to a 56-12 annihilation of South Sydney.
In Sunday’s second NRL match, Manly caused a boilover with a 28-6 victory over Parramatta as the Sea Eagles paid tribute to club great Bob Fulton, who died aged 74.
The Panthers’ win made them just the fifth side in history to start the season with 11 straight wins.
Matt Burton scored a hat-trick and set up two tries on his old home ground in Dubbo as part of the Panthers’ nine-try haul.
Billed as a State of Origin trial between Luai and incumbent Cody Walker, the Panthers number six easily claimed bagging rights as his combination with Cleary continues to flourish.
Luai put Penrith on the front foot when he turned a ball back inside for Burton to go through a hole in the fourth minute.
Cleary made the most of it two plays later, spinning through the line for the first of his two tries.
Luai’s other main involvement came when he and Cleary combined to put Burton over for his first try, with the centre going over almost untouched from Luai’s pass.
In comparison, Walker’s afternoon summed up the Rabbitohs day.
He put a ball into touch from the Rabbitohs’ first attacking chance from a scrum, threw another forward pass on attack and had Cleary run through him twice for tries.
The 31-year-old claimed a late second-half try himself when the game was done, stepping through the line as the Rabbitohs ran it on the last.
Sunday was meant to be Penrith’s biggest test against a Rabbitohs side boosted by Latrell Mitchell’s return.
But instead, the Rabbitohs were outclassed early in the contest, going behind 28-0 after 33 minutes.
Mitchell put on some nice touches in the second half, but with Penrith dominating territory and possession his chances were limited.
Burton had a field day after handing out 45 tickets to family and friends.
His second try came when he leapt over former teammate Josh Mansour to take a Cleary kick, before his third also came when a Cleary bomb bounced.
The 21-year-old then capped off his performance when Luai again put him into a hole and he turned back inside for Stephen Crichton to finish the job.
The only concern for Penrith could be Kurt Capewell being put on report for a crusher tackle, but he would be free to play Origin I for Queensland unless it is a grade-two charge.
Parramatta Eels vs Manly Sea Eagles