Stephen Crichton put himself in the State of Origin conversation by underpinning Penrith’s seventh straight win of 2022 with a hat-trick as the Panthers scored a 36-6 victory over the Canberra Raiders.
After Crichton was awarded his third – a penalty try after interference from Raiders centre Matt Timoko – the 20,000-plus Penrith fans began a mock Viking clap to add a little more salt into the wounds of Raiders fans.
They did it again 10 minutes from fulltime when the result was inevitable.
Penrith remain blemish-free for the year winning seven on the trot, the only unbeaten team in the NRL.
Crichton’s performance – that’s now six tries in seven games – was played out in front of NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler who was sideline commentator for Channel Nine.
Fittler is likely to have a vacancy in his centre ranks for the opening Origin game in Sydney on June 8 with both incumbents Latrell Mitchell (hamstring) and Tom Trbojevic (knee) still several weeks from returning.
The Origin team will be named after round 12.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said Crichton had all the attributes for the Origin arena.
“I don’t think he’d let anyone down. He’s been really good this year for us,” he said.
Crichton said he enjoyed his time in the NSW Blues extended squad for 2020 but would not start sweating on whether he could got a step further this year.
“I just want to play consistent footy for Penrith and any bonuses that come from that would be good for me and my family,” he said.
Crichton did his chances no harm after Cronulla centre Siosifa Talakai pushed his name into the ring with a swashbuckling two tries, three try assists and three line-breaks in Thursday’s win over Manly.
For Canberra there is more disappointment.
They hung in relentlessly for a large chunk of the game but caved in during the final 18 minutes.
“It was very hard,” Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said.
“I don’t think we had a play-the-ball in their half in the second half. We were forever defending, so it wouldn’t have only been Penrith that beat us by that amount – other teams would have to.”
The Raiders only ended up with 40 per cent possession for the match, ran 1,000 metres less than the Panthers, had just one line-break to their hosts’ six, and busted 18 tackles compared with Penrith’s 32.
Something had to give after the opening 13 minutes with the Raiders camped on their line and Crichton finally crossed for the Panthers in the right-side corner.
Raiders prop Joe Tapine helped to level things up just four minutes later with a hard-running try, but it was one-way traffic from there.
Isaah Yeo skipped through a yawning gap with Nathan Cleary kicking the conversion and then a penalty for a 14-6 lead at the break.
Crichton burrowed through a few Raiders bodies to reward the Panthers’ perseverance 15 minutes into the second half and when he registered a third four-pointer three minutes later, the floodgates opened.
Tries to Taylan May and Viliame Kikau finished off another merciless showing by the defending premiers.