The North Sydney Bears have taken a giant step towards securing a top-four finish with a dominant 42-24 win over the Penrith Panthers at North Sydney Oval on Sunday.
There were no real standouts for the Bears with everyone playing their part in the victory over an at times disinterested Panthers side.
Jarome Luai returned from an eye injury to line up at halfback for Penrith, playing alongside recent NRL debutant Matt Burton.
While the pair may be teammates now, James Maloney’s departure at the end of the year means they are effectively competing for his vacant position alongside Nathan Cleary.
It is hard to get a good read on their individual performances given they weren’t given much of a chance of putting their stamp on the game.
Luai’s footwork proved dangerous but he was guilty of sending Penrith’s attack too sideways.
Burton came up with a crucial try-saving tackle in defence and put in a couple of well-positioned kicks in a mixed effort.
In all, the Panthers struggled to get into a rhythm for much of the match and were too frantic in attack when they had opportunities on the opposition line.
Bears five-eighth Lachlan Lam broke through for the first try of the game when he took the line on in the 6thminute.
Penrith regrouped though to score eight minutes later through Matheson Johns after a spiralling kick from Burton forced an error.
A deceptive pass out of dummy-half from Sione Katoa and late offload created space as quick hands put the winger Johns over in the corner.
North Sydney rallied to run in the next three tries, the first seeing Asu Kepaoa prove too strong close to the line before great support play saw Elih Jackson score with his first touch of the ball.
James Tuitahi then burst through the middle and found a speedy Kieran Moss back on the inside only for Burton to stop a certain try in a strong one-on-one tackle.
The relief was short-lived for the Panthers though as Tuitahi crossed over moments later to extend North Sydney’s lead to 20.
Bradley Deitz then sliced through the middle in the dying moments of the first half, Moss backing up again and this time scoring under the posts.
After a tough first half, Burton and Luai combined brilliantly to send Malakai Watene-Zelezniak over in the corner.
The Panthers quickly went back-to-back as Shannon Harris broke through, linked with Johns and backed up in support to score.
Two-straight dropouts then heaped more pressure on North Sydney who folded again, Katoa throwing a beautiful ball from dummy-half to send Patrick Hollis over.
Burton kicked just one of the conversions to leave the difference at two converted tries.
A penalty saw the Bears extend the buffer by two though before Drew Hutchison took on the line and reached out to score.
Asu Kepaoa then barged over as North Sydney pushed further away.
Kaide Ellis scored late for the Panthers but it made little difference as they suffered a heavy defeat.