Penrith have all but secured a place in this year’s NRL finals series, and ended the Wests Tigers’ late-season charge, with a 40-10 thrashing at Pepper Stadium.
Against a Tigers side missing star James Tedesco, the Panthers on Friday night notched a third straight win, second-biggest over the Tigers and their highest score of the year.
In front of 14,876 fans, their second-best crowd of the season, seven different Panthers made it onto the scoresheet, including a highlight reel-worthy full-field effort to Waqa Blake in the first half.
Rising star Nathan Cleary also set up two tries and kicked six goals from seven attempts, while causing plenty of trouble for back-up fullback Jordan Rankin with pinpoint bombs.
The win cements seventh spot on the ladder and keeps Penrith within striking distance of hosting an elimination final, while the Tigers’ will be left to rue a slow start to their 2016 campaign.
The defeat was compounded by a possible knee injury to Chris Lawrence, who collided legs with Josh Mansour midway through the second half and failed to return.
The home side conceded first points when Mitchell Moses broke through and found a flying Josh Addo-Carr to claim his fifth try in just seven NRL appearances.
However, the Panthers quickly hit back through Blake, and then poured on the points through Bryce Cartwright (18th minute), Isaah Yeo (24th), Reagan Campbell-Gillard (29th) and Peter Wallace (39th).
Blake scored after a 60-metre break by Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who took a pass from Matt Moylan in front of his own posts and then burned Tim Simona to surge downfield.
By halftime, the Tigers had missed 30 tackles to Penrith’s eight, given up 64 per cent possession and were on the wrong end of a 28-4 deficit.
The Panthers’ momentum failed to halt after the break, with Trent Merrin and James Fisher-Harris crossing inside the hour mark to put the result beyond the Tigers’ reach.
Moses, who was arguably the Tigers’ best, scored a consolation try in the 63rd minute.
Tigers prop Tim Grant could find himself in trouble for a high shot on Watene-Zelezniak in the first half despite not being placed on report.