The Penrith Panthers have welcomed back Nathan Cleary and cruised to a 34-16 victory over the St George Illawarra Dragons at Suncorp Stadium.

Needing a victory to keep their rapidly-diminishing finals hopes alive, the Dragons appeared to have the early attacking momentum.

However, that quickly changed when Brent Naden intercepted a cut-out pass from Corey Norman and ran the length of the field to score a try against the run of play.

The Dragons soon hit back through Mikaele Ravalawa, who was the beneficiary of a magical offload from Zac Lomax.

Despite having three defenders draped off of him, Lomax managed to get his right arm free and flick the ball around the back of Matt Burton to his unmarked winger.

Penrith then found their mojo and ended the first half with a flurry. Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, and Matt Burton combined to send Brent Naden over for his second try.

Gerard Beale was then fooled by a Dylan Edwards dummy that sent the fullback through the line to score his first of the night.

Ivan Cleary’s men continued their momentum after the break with Jarome Luai evading a flying tackle from Ravalawa before Matt Burton burned the Dragons’ defence.

Burton then passed off to Edwards, who completed his double.

Burton grabbed a try for himself two minutes later as a hit from Nathan Cleary forced the ball free from the arms of Jack Bird before Penrith sent it through the hands to their star centre.

Cleary’s contact was questioned, with some accusations of a shoulder charge, but the try was confirmed by the Bunker.

In a dour night for Dragons’ fans, Talatau Amone provided several highlights in his short stint off the bench that had commentators hyperbolically dubbing him as ‘the next Benji’.

In the 62nd minute, Amone stepped past the Penrith defence and released a classy offload to an unmarked Jack Bird.

He then nabbed a try of his own in a similar fashion, demonstrating a fancy right-foot step in a charge towards the try-line that saw him beat four defenders single-handedly.

Despite Amone’s brilliance and a late sin-bin to Viliame Kikau, it was Penrith’s night to celebrate as the reigning minor premiers once again drew within one win of the Melbourne Storm.

On the flip side, Anthony Griffin’s side have squandered their opportunity to move level with the seventh, eighth, and ninth-placed Titans, Raiders, and Knights.

They may be joined on 18 competition points by the Warriors and Tigers by the conclusion of the weekend.

The task doesn’t get much easier for the Dragons next weekend as they face James Tedesco and the Roosters on Sunday afternoon, while all eyes will be on the Panthers’ top-of-the-table clash against the Rabbitohs in prime-time on Friday night.

NRL News Player of the Game:

3 Points – Jarome Luai  (PEN)- The Penrith five-eighth looked back to his best with Cleary alongside him, chiming in for two try assists and a try contribution.

2 Points – Matt Burton (PEN) – While he wasn’t as dominant as he was in the halves, Burton still managed to influence the game with one try, one try assist, and a try contribution.

1 Point – Talatau Amone (SGI) – Amone was exceptional in his short stint on the field and was easily the Dragons’ most potent player of the match.

Penrith Panthers utility Matt Burton

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