Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary have made an irresistible case to combine for NSW in State of Origin after leading Penrith to a 56-12 annihilation of South Sydney.
Local boy Matt Burton bagged a hat-trick and set up two tries on his old home ground in Dubbo, as the Panthers’ left edge ran riot against the Rabbitohs.
Billed as a NSW Origin trial between Luai and incumbent Cody Walker, Blues coach Brad Fittler would have been a hard man not label Luai the winner.
His combination with Blues half Cleary continues to be the most dominant in the competition, as Penrith became just the fifth side in history to start the season with 11 straight wins.
Cleary finished with 28 points for the second straight week as he scored two tries and set up four, with Luai again the perfect foil and not overawed by the opportunity.
The No.6 put Penrith on the front foot when he turned a ball back inside for Burton to go through a hole in the fourth minute, with Cleary scoring two plays later.
Luai’s other main involvement came when he and Cleary combined to put Burton over for his first try, with the centre going over almost untouched from Luai’s pass.
“There were a lot of doubters there last year and people thought Matt Burton should be ahead of him,” coach Ivan Cleary said.
“Jarome brings more than just his own individual flair and what he can do.
“He has a lot of other qualities, he helps players around him and brings a lot more to our team as well.”
In comparison, Walker’s afternoon summed up the Rabbitohs’ day.
He put a ball into touch in Souths’ first real attacking chance from a scrum, threw another forward pass on attack and had Cleary run through him twice for tries.
The 31-year-old claimed a late second-half try himself when the game was done, stepping through the line as the Rabbitohs ran it on the last.
Sunday was meant to be Penrith’s biggest test against a Souths side boosted by Latrell Mitchell’s return.
But instead, the Rabbitohs looked as if they’d barely made it over the mountains, going behind 28-0 after 33 minutes.
Mitchell put on some nice touches in the second half, but his opportunities were limited as Souths conceded 50 for the second time in two weeks.
Souths hope to have Cameron Murray back at lock next week, but Wayne Bennett warned there are bigger issues at play than just his absence.
“We thought we were missing Latrell and a few others and they all turned up today,” Bennett said.
“So I don’t think Cam Murray is going to turn us around by himself.
“(But) It was difficult for him at fullback in a game like that.”
Isaah Yeo was also superb for Penrith with the NSW No.13 jersey now seemingly a race between him and Jake Trbojevic following Victor Radley’s judiciary charges.
The only concern for Penrith could be Kurt Capewell being put on report for a crusher tackle, but he would be free to play Origin I unless it is a grade-two charge.