Nathan Cleary the hero as Panthers scrape past improved Broncos

Penrith have been pushed to the brink by a resurgent Brisbane as halfback Nathan Cleary stood tall to deliver a dramatic victory over the lowly Broncos at Suncorp Stadium.

A match that was expected to be as lopsided as any this season turned into a see-sawing contest in which the score was locked at 12-all with five minutes to go before Cleary stepped up to snap a two-point field goal and give Penrith some breathing room.

The Broncos peppered Panthers winger Brian To’o with high kicks.Credit:Getty

Then, with two minutes to play, he put himself in the right place at the right time to barge over next to the posts to ensure the Panthers remained unbeaten for the season.

Kevin Walters primed his side with a fearsome pre-game oration and it looked as if they finally listened. Brisbane played with heart and passion and were in the contest for 78 minutes behind a powerhouse performance from Payne Haas and Tevita Pangai jnr, who had his best game for two seasons.

Unfortunately for the demoted Anthony Milford, Brisbane looked a far more solid defensive unit in his absence, while Brodie Croft played well behind a competitive pack and put Penrith under constant pressure with his high kicks to the corner of Brian To’o.

Brisbane skipped ahead early when they made the surprising call to take a penalty, only for Penrith to hit back with a try through Kurt Capewell and take a 4-2 lead.

Everyone in the rugby league universe expected that to spark a run of points for the Panthers but it was the Broncos who managed to dig deep and score through Pangai jnr in the corner, with the big forward completing an acrobatic finish to put his side ahead.

That try came off a mistake from To’o and he will be having nightmares about descending Steedens for the next week. Croft’s relentless targeting of the winger was accurate and merciless and looked like yielding results on more than one occasion.

It’s a tactic that won’t have gone unnoticed by some of the more fancied premiership contenders. Still, Penrith were able to find a way as Matt Burton struck in the centres and Cleary nailed the extras from the sidelines for a 10-6 lead.

That try was celebrated by Penrith with a series of restrained handshakes, a clear reply to accusations of arrogance during the week, but the Panthers needed to worry about what they Broncos were doing, not what the rest of the league was saying.

Croft was instrumental in Brisbane’s next try, serving it up on the inside for Ethan Bullemor, who showed some neat footwork for a big man to stand up Stephen Crichton and dive over for his maiden NRL try.

They arrived just hoping to avoid another demolition but the Broncos crowd greeted their embattled side with a standing ovation as they filed off with a 12-10 half-time lead, which was soon 12-12 after a Cleary penalty in the 52nd minute had them all square.

The Brisbane fade-out just didn’t arrive and both teams started to look for field goals. Jamayne Isaako tried his luck for a one-pointer before Cleary stepped up to add the second two-point field goal of the season and put his side ahead 14-12 with five minutes left on the clock.

It was the kind of big-time play that showed why champion teams usually have a champion half. He wasn’t done yet, steaming onto a pass from playmaking partner Jarome Luai to score between the posts and seal another victory.

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