It was a dream debut for rookie Charlie Staines who scored four tries as the Penrith Panthers downed the Cronulla Sharks 56 – 24.
A round nine clash with the number two Panthers was the perfect yardstick for a Cronulla side who were gathering momentum on the back of three wins in a row.
But it was the 19-year-old debutant Staines who crashed the party, becoming the first player since 2008 to score four tries on debut.
The Panthers opened the scoring in the third minute through Brent Naden who had moved to centre to accommodate Staines.
Fullback Dylan Edwards took on the line and delivered a brilliant one-handed offload to Naden who strolled through for an easy four-pointer.
The Panthers were in again eight minutes later through Liam Martin courtesy of some Api Koroisau sleight of hand.
Koroisau fooled the Cronulla defence by faking left before stepping right and putting Martin through a hole to score.
Nathan Cleary kicked his second conversion to put the Panthers up 12 – 0 within twelve minutes.
Stephen Crichton continued his run of try-scoring form when he dove over in the corner for the Panthers third try.
Five minutes later, Staines crossed for the first of his four tries off the back of quick hands from Cleary and Naden.
Staines was straight back in the action when he broke the line off the kickoff.
This drew in Sharks fullback Josh Dugan to put Edwards away.
Crichton converted to give the Panthers a 26 – 0 lead inside the first 30 minutes.
The game looked like it had gotten away from the Sharks, but two tries in the last 10 minutes of the first half gave them some hope going into halftime.
The first was set up by Shaun Johnson who continued his rich vein of form.
He ran the ball off the back of a quick play of the ball and put Briton Nikora through a hole to score.
Blayke Brailey then busted over from dummy half right on halftime.
Johnson converted to send the Sharks into the sheds trailing 26 – 12.
The Sharks needed to score first in the second half to have any chance of clawing the game back.
But it was Staines who grabbed the first try of the second half, and his second for the game.
Naden climbed up over two Sharks players to bat back a Cleary bomb for Staines to cross over.
The Sharks were given an opportunity when James Tamou was sent to the sin bin.
But they failed to capitalise when Chad Townsend kicked the ball dead and then they gave away a repeat set.
The Panthers scored through Billy Burns off the resulting possession.
The Sharks were lucky it wasn’t ruled an 8 point try with Aaron Woods contacting Burns high as he scored.
The Sharks were eventually able to use their numbers advantage scoring through Jesse Ramien before Tamou returned from the bin.
Woods was sent to the bin moments later when he was ruled to have committed a professional foul after an Edwards line-break.
While Woods was off the field, the Panthers scored again through Crichton and Staines and conceded an intercept try to Nene MacDonald.
Staines then crossed over in the 78th minute for his fourth try when Naden delivered a brilliant one-handed pass.
NRL News Player of the Game
3. Dylan Edwards
2. Charlie Staines
1. Brent Naden