Hot Panthers rejoice in rookies after seventh straight win
THEY'RE the three rookies who have just one NRL loss between them.
And Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has no hesitation in riding their hot hand after extending the Panthers' winning streak to seven on Friday night with a 40-18 rout of St George Illawarra.
The Panthers turned in their best attacking display of the season, led by star duo James Maloney and Nathan Cleary.
Sitting in last spot before the start of their run, Penrith are in seventh spot and within two points of third-placed Canberra.
"I just thought that our whole game came together tonight," Ivan said.
"We've been building away, chipping away. I knew we had more in us - I felt that's what showed tonight. Some things did start to fall into place."
However, it was the contributions of first-year players Brian To'o, Brent Naden and Mitch Kenny that drew plenty of praise from their coach after the match.
Both To'o and Naden bagged doubles, while Kenny led the team with 41 tackles.
To'o and Naden, who weren't even in Penrith's top-30 at the start of the year, now have six tries each in as many NRL games.
Between the three of them, To'o is the only one to experience a loss so far.
A week after wowing home fans with an acrobatic double against Gold Coast, the 20-year-old added two more to the highlight reel with his first-half brace.
His second gave the Panthers the half-time lead, and they never looked back.
"That was a huge try, a huge moment, actually," Ivan said.
"I thought we were really good at the start of the game, and then probably two defensive lapses cost us two tries.
"But it was definitely an important strike, that one. To be able to go in at half-time leading, which I thought we deserved to.
"And then to be able to score first half-time broke it open.
"Our young fellas are doing really well. Three rookies started tonight and when Liam Martin's fit, he normally starts too.
"So our three rookies tonight all contributed really strongly."
Ivan admitted the emergence of To'o was symbolic of an evolving team who are now one victory away from equalling a club-record eight straight wins.
"He's definitely one of the guys that helped us when we were struggling, came into the team and provided that boost," Ivan said.
"(He) just loves playing, so grateful for the opportunity, has a huge following of family and friends, local kid.
"It is a bit symbolic. Our young guys have definitely had a huge impact on our team. And some of the senior guys and older guys are starting to play better, too."