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Cleary 'encouraged' as Panthers put wounded Warriors to the sword

Ivan Cleary only had to look at the Warriors bench on Sunday to know that Penrith's premiership bid remains in "decent shape" as Jarome Luai eyes a return to mark the end of a nervous Origin period.

The Panthers were by no means near their best across the course of a 30-16 disposal of the Warriors, who were reduced to 13 fit players by halftime.

Cleary acknowledged as much afterwards and didn't hesitate in handing the post-Origin mantle of NRL pacesetters to Melbourne.

After yet another Storm shellacking in round 18 – Newcastle ending up the latest fodder for Craig Bellamy's all-conquering side – Cleary was cognisant of his own side's effort throughout a 4-2 record during this year's representative period.

All five of Penrith's fit Origin players - Isaah Yeo, Kurt Capewell, Api Koroisau, Brian To'o and Liam Martin – turned out against the Warriors.

Luai is expected to join them for next week's clash against Brisbane, while the club is yet to lay out a return date for lynchpin No.7 Nathan Cleary.

Asked if Penrith were still a ways off the dizzying benchmark set by their 2020 grand final opponents in recent weeks, Cleary said: "That's fair. It's a long year and we certainly started the season well.

"We had a really nice rhythm going, we had the same guys playing most weeks.

"But the Origin period - the six weeks or whatever it is - was going to be tough for us.

Brown confirms long-term injuries to Harris and Egan

"[We had] a lot of guys in there so you're either missing them from training or they're playing those big games and then a few injuries as well.

"To be able to win when you're not playing that well, that's encouraging. The Storm are certainly hitting some big highs at the moment.

"At least we've come through that in decent shape."

The same can't be said of the Warriors, who slumped to their sixth straight loss with injuries to inspirational skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, their most experienced forward Tohu Harris, hooker Wayde Egan and centre Rocco Berry in quick succession.

At one stage the Warriors lost three key players in just six minutes.

Harris limped off early before superstar Tuivasa-Sheck was left dazed in a 15th minute tackle.

Captain Tuisava-Sheck - shifted to five-eighth in a rejigged backline - collected his head on Burton's hip in a tackle that went wrong and appeared to be out before he hit the ground.

Looping pass has To'o over in the corner

Harris only lasted 12 minutes in his return from a shoulder complaint, twisting his knee in a Brent Naden tackle and limping off moments later after a failed attempt to stay on the field.

Egan was the next to go in the 17th minute with a shoulder complaint and wasn't sighted again in the first half.

He bravely resurfaced on the bench in the second stanza on standby, putting his hand up to endure injury and play if needed.

At one stage in the first half Berry (hamstring) was the only man left on the Warriors bench but he was getting his leg iced after coming off in the 36th minute.

Crichton flicks a pass out to Staines

Leading 16-10 at halftime, the Panthers kicked ahead against a tiring Warriors when winger Staines was set up by a sublime Stephen Crichton flick pass in the 56th minute.

Stand-in five-eighth Tyrone May then set up Martin (65th) and a second try for Charlie Staines (67th) in quick succession.

The Warriors kept swinging, with Reece Walsh crossing in the 73rd minute moments after copping a high shot from Naden who was placed on report.

Warriors prop Matt Lodge was also cited for a late high tackle, while James Fisher-Harris copped blows to his knee and ribs late in the contest and will be assessed this week.

Press Conference: Warriors v Panthers - Round 18, 2021

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