It wasn’t pretty but Penrith have extended their unbeaten NRL season start with an 18-4 win over a dogged Gold Coast outfit hit by an injury to X-factor David Fifita.
The defending premiers looked rattled at times but held on to notch an eighth straight win in 2022 after Nathan Cleary inspired a second-half revival at Cbus Super Stadium on Friday night.
Cleary proved the difference after the Titans grabbed a shock 4-0 halftime lead.
He set up two tries and scored himself to ensure Penrith became the first team in history to win the opening eight games in back- to-back seasons.
They didn’t have it all their own way, though.
Indeed the hosts’ cause was not helped by Fifita limping off with a knee injury in the 64th minute after controversially starting on the bench.
“I think it is medial. It happened late in the first half. He might have hurt it further in the second,” Titans coach Justin Holbrook said of Fifita.
Cleary showed his class when grubbering for Izack Tago to score his sixth try in eight games in the 43rd minute.
He then combined with hulking backrower Viliame Kikau to score four minutes later and threaten a blow out.
It didn’t come but the Penrith juggernaut still rumbled along, with Cleary grubbering for Jarome Luai to crash over in the 74th minute.
“It was a win for our culture tonight,” Penrith coach Ivan Cleary said.
“We weren’t at our best…but our defence held firm.”
Holbrook stood by his call to start Fifita on the bench after the devastating backrower’s failed experiment in the centres last round.
“He is more of an impact player. I would rather he play 60 minutes full of quality rather than get gassed and try to push for 80 for the sake of it,” Holbrook said.
“I thought the (team) changes were right. We just couldn’t withstand them.”
The Titans appeared vulnerable after losing four of their last six matches including the last three but held an unlikely lead after an error-riddled first half.
A frustrated Penrith looked to have drawn first blood in the 22nd minute, only for fullback Dylan Edwards to be denied after the video referee ruled Cleary had obstructed Moeaki Fotuaika in the lead-up.
Fifita came off the bench to carve through Penrith, keeping the ball alive before winger Greg Marzhew gobbled up Will Smith’s kick and crashed over in the 38th minute.
There were encouraging early signs for the Gold Coast but match stats didn’t make for pretty reading.
The first half featured 11 errors, including six by the defending premiers.
“That’s a fulltime stat usually for Penrith. Very rarely do they give away six errors in a half,” Cronulla premiership-winning coach Shane Flanagan said of the Panthers, who had an ordinary 70 per cent completion rate for the first stanza.