Penrith has knocked over another record by thumping Cronulla 38-12 at Panthers stadium on Friday night, with St George holding off an improved Brisbane to claim a 28-24 victory at Lang Park.
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Extending their club-record winning streak to 10, the Panthers took another step into the premiership limelight as they made light work of a scrappy Sharks side.
Now three points clear at the top of the ladder and with a favourable draw on their side, the Panthers are on track for their third minor premiership in club history.
But aside from their usual slew of stars, rising gun Liam Martin caused nightmares for the Sharks defence as he terrorised five-eighth Matt Moylan.
On a high after extending his contract for another two seasons earlier in the week, the 23-year-old twice cruised past Moylan — once to set up a try for Brent Naden and again to score himself with half-an-hour to play.
His two strips also turned the tide in the Panthers’ favour, although not much went the way of Cronulla.
The visitors were dealt a huge blow in the lead-up to the game with halfback Shaun Johnson ruled out with a groin injury.
The Kiwi international leads the NRL with 20 try-assists this season and the Sharks missed his direction with ball in hand.
Replacement half Braydon Trindall took his chances, but 14 errors made fluency impossible for the Sharks, who have yet to beat a current top-eight side this season.
He was later smashed late and without the ball by Panthers second-rower Viliame Kikau, who could face the wrath of the NRL’s match review committee for the shot.
The Sharks scored just once each half through Jesse Ramien and Connor Tracey as the Panthers maintained the pressure from a 22-6 halftime lead.
Kikau, Stephen Crichton and Jarome Luai all scored, while winger Josh Mansour celebrated his 150th NRL match with a double.
The Panthers are now practically perfect from their last 10 games.
And forget scoring within the first 20 minutes of a match — the Panthers have not conceded a point in the opening quarter since round one against Sydney Roosters.
It’s the longest stretch since records were kept in 1980.
Their 10 wins in a row is equal longest for any side during the regular season — the last team to do it was the Sharks in 2016.
The top-placed Panthers now have a wonderful run in to the finals, playing only Parramatta from the top eight in the final five weeks.
Next week they face Wests Tigers at Penrith, followed by Brisbane, Eels, North Queensland and Canterbury.
Dragons hold off improved Brisbane
Brisbane were better but still fell short in a four-point loss to St George on Friday, marking their 12th loss from 13 games since the NRL’s restart.
Halfback Tom Dearden, centre Kotoni Staggs and young captain Patrick Carrigan worked overtime to change the Broncos’ fortunes but the Dragons were well managed by Corey Norman and former Bronco Ben Hunt.
The latter sealed the 28-24 victory for the Dragons when he forced a line dropout with a pinpoint long kick in the final moments.
With a finals run extremely unlikely, it was a consolation win for the Dragons (6-9) in Dean Young’s first game in charge, after the departure of former coach Paul McGregor.
Brisbane (15th, 3-12) produced flimsy tryline defence early on when Josh Kerr and Norman scored simple close-range tries to create a 12-0 lead after just six minutes.
They did manage to hit back with a swift backline movement that say Darius Boyd lay on a try for Richie Kennar, before Cory Paix darted over from dummy-half to level the scores.
Dragons fullback Matt Dufty’s three-man cut-out pass found a rampaging Mikaele Ravalawa to give his side an 18-12 lead after another try was denied on review for a line-ball knock-on.
In the absence of quarantined coach Anthony Seibold, stand-in Brisbane coach Peter Gentle had the team running drills at the half-time break to address their second-half fade-outs, which had seen them score just 12 points and concede 154 in the last 20 minutes of games this season.
And it seemed to work for Staggs, who brushed past two would-be tacklers before stepping Dufty to complete a superb 75m try early in the second half.
A penalty edged St George ahead again before flying Fijian Ravalawa scored his second, Zac Lomax’s quick hands putting him over and then nailing the sideline conversion.
His boot let him down soon after, as Lomax’s kick on the run slid off the side of his boot with Dufty flying on the inside.
Dearden wasn’t done though, capping a hard-working game with a solo try to make it a two-point game inside the final 10 minutes after Anthony Milford had limped off in his return from a hamstring injury.
Jacob Host then knocked on attempting to score the match-winner but it mattered little as Hunt stepped up to steer the Dragons home.