Cleary went to pass before he dropped the ball on to his right boot and snuck it in behind Benji Marshall for Peachey to score.
The young playmaker then threw a bullet-like cut-out pass for centre Dean Whare, who shook off a few defenders and raced down field. Cleary had the hide to keep up with Whare before he got his hands on the ball the next play, then found Maloney, who launched a looping pass for Tyrone Phillips to score. Penrith kicked out to lead 12-2 in what would be the last try of the night.
The Cleary-Maloney combination was praised as ‘‘beautiful to watch’’ on the Channel Nine commentary by Andrew Johns not long after Phillips’ try.
Cleary, 20, will have one final audition for Origin One in next Saturday night’s top-of-the-table clash against St George Illawarra.
After NSW coach Brad Fittler gave Parramatta’s Mitchell Moses a huge and strange push for the Blues No.7 jersey on the news a night earlier, Cleary and Maloney were clearly not affected.
Cleary said one of the most pleasing things was his knee survived the first-up hitout.
“It was hard watching for eight weeks, it was pleasing to see the boys do so well, but to finally get back out there and play some footy, it’s the best feeling,” Cleary said afterwards.
Coach Anthony Griffin said of his 20-year-old pin-up playmaker: “His kicking game was good, he made a few half breaks, was strong in defence, so it was a good return.”
Maloney had come under fire over his defence during the week, so much so his Origin spot was bizarrely questioned.
But Griffin was straight to the point when he said of Maloney ”I wouldn’t swap him for anyone”.
Penrith continued their winning ways and are a team who will push deep into September.
The score could have been much worse for the Tigers had the Panthers not botched or been denied tries on three separate occasions in the second half. Christian Crichton dropped the ball cold over the line, Phillips cost himself a double when his foot went into touch, while Kikau was denied because of an obstruction in the lead-up.
The Tigers would have been deeply disappointed with this one, especially after the energy they showed to down the Cowboys at a heaving Fortress Leichhardt seven nights earlier.
They could not hang on to the ball and never looked like posting points, even when they enjoyed a string of penalties midway through the first half. Earlier in the night, Panthers boss Phil Gould stood in the middle of the ground and announced Josh Mansour had inked a new three-year deal.
The referees blew plenty of penalties, and at one stage mistakenly sent Alex Twal to the sin-bin rather than skipper Russell Packer.
PENRITH 16 (T Peachey T Phillips tries J Maloney 4 goals) bt WESTS TIGERS 2 (E Marsters goal) at Panthers Stadium. Referees: Ben Cummins, Jon Stone. Crowd: 15,081.
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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