Cleary stars on return as Panthers go joint-top

Nathan Cleary made a fine return from injury in Penrith Panthers' comprehensive 16-2 victory over Wests Tigers, a result that sent his side level on points with NRL leaders St George Illawarra Dragons.

Having spent eight weeks on the sidelines with medial knee ligament damage, Cleary boosted his hopes of a State of Origin debut for New South Wales with a commanding display at Panthers Stadium.

The Penrith half-back set up a first-half score for Tyrone Peachey and Tyrone Phillips got the other as Cleary claimed bragging rights over father Ivan, who coaches the Tigers, and kept the celebrations going after a new three-year contract for winger Josh Mansour was announced prior to kick-off.

Esan Marsters got the Tigers on the board first but Peachey touched down a delightful grubber kick from Cleary, despite Penrith being down to 12 men, with Trent Merrin in the sin bin after the Panthers conceded eight penalties inside 22 minutes.

James Maloney converted to add to an earlier two-pointer, but he was unable to split the posts again after setting Phillips into the left corner with a delightful cut-out pass.

Errors were a recurring theme in a scrappy second period, with the Panthers denied a further three tries and the Tigers - for whom Alex Twal received a yellow card - unable to touch down at all.

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