Jarome Luai has sent a clear message ahead of State of Origin by starring in Penrith's 32-12 win over the Sydney Roosters at the SCG.
In Saturday's earlier matches, North Queensland thrashed the Melbourne Storm 36-6 in Townsville, St George Illawarra got past the Warriors 24-18 at Kogarah.
With NSW coach Brad Fittler looking set to lose superstar Tom Trbojevic for the season, he would at least have taken some joy in Luai's performance against the Roosters.
The Panthers five-eighth scored two tries, forced two drop-outs, busted four tackles, had three offloads and broke the line once in his second-last hit-out before Origin I on June 8.
Teammate Stephen Crichton boosted his case for one of NSW's two vacant centre spots, scoring a length-of-the-field try to put the game to bed in the second half.
It came as the defending premiers backed up their 32-6 flogging of an understrength Storm last week with a domination of the Roosters.
The win puts the Panthers four points clear at the top of the ladder, a handy buffer they will welcome given the amount of players they will have in Origin.
The Roosters could lose a player more immediately, with prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves on report for a high tackle and sin-binned for dissent.
The Roosters veteran clocked James Fisher-Harris high as he crossed late, and then twice swore when speaking to referee Gerard Sutton when informed it would be a possible eight-point try.
The incident highlighted a sorry night for Trent Robinson's team, who desperately missed the injured Victor Radley's direct running in attack as they often went sideways in their limited time with good ball.
That issue was exemplified by the form of Isaah Yeo in the Penrith line up, who has quickly become the competition's best lock.
Yeo was influential in Penrith's first try, taking the ball to the line and putting Scott Sorensen through a gap before Luai loomed up in support play.
Luai's second came four minutes later when the Panthers ran it on the last, with he and Cleary combining before the five-eighth spotted a gap when Luke Keary slipped over in defence.
The five-eighth also played a lesser role in the Panthers' next try, forcing a line drop-out to give his team one last set before halftime.
They took full advantage, with Api Koroisau going over from dummy-half when the Roosters line rushed out expecting a Cleary field goal attempt.
The Roosters in comparison could not take their chances when it mattered most.
The hosts had the bulk of the ball in the 20 minutes after half-time but emerged from it even further behind when Crichton marked a Keary kick and went 95 metres to score.
And while James Tedesco and Paul Momirovksi crossed for tries late in the second half, they too often lacked any real punch in attack, posing too few questions for the Panthers.
Cowboys' win soured by injury
Injuries to Jason Taumalolo and Kyle Feldt have taken some gloss from North Queensland's thumping of the Storm in front of a sellout crowd in Townsville.
The Cowboys were staring down 12 straight losses to Craig Bellamy's side, with their last win coming in the 2015 preliminary final.
But a six-tries-to-one performance on Saturday night marked their sixth win in a row and will have fans contemplating premiership aspirations as they went level on points with the second-placed Storm on the ladder,.
Without stars Ryan Papenhuyzen and Jarome Hughes — and playing hooker Harry Grant in the halves — the Storm failed to fire in the second half as North Queensland dominated possession, territory and the intensity of the contest.
Three tries in eight minutes early in the second half blew the Cowboys' 12-6 half-time buffer out to 30-6.
Winger Murray Taulagi boosted his State of Origin selection push with an aerial put-down, fullback Scott Drinkwater found the line off a poor defensive read and young forward Jeremiah Nanai added two more tries to his season tally to be second in the competition with 10.
The Cowboys could easily have won by more but Coen Hess was ruled for a double movement with his crash play and Melbourne winger Xavier Coates miraculously held up Taulagi over the line after a break.
But in their glory came worry, with both co-captain Taumalolo and in-form winger Feldt suffering suspected knee injuries in the first half.
Feldt's left leg was bent back awkwardly in a tackle. he was able to hobble off but must be in serious doubt to contend for the June 8 Origin series opener after he made his debut for Queensland in 2021.
Taumalolo departed the field with a suspected right knee injury.
The pair's injuries end a stellar run with injury for the club after coach Todd Payten was able to name the same starting side for four consecutive rounds.
Taumalolo has led the NRL statistically in post-contact metres in a strong season start after suffering three separate hand injuries in season 2021.
Feldt had scored seven tries in seven NRL appearances in 2022, with four coming in his last three games.
In the first half, a brilliant solo effort by Tom Gilbert got the Cowboys on the board when he gathered the ball from a short goal-line drop out in the 12th minute and broke through the tackle of Marion Seve.
Tom Dearden then found Reece Robson six minutes later from a quick play-the-ball for a try, before Felise Kaufusi finally cracked the Cowboys' defensive wall to score in the 32nd minute.
That was the Storm's only try as North Queensland scored 30 or more points for a fifth consecutive game and Valentine Holmes kicked a perfect six from six conversions.
Ramsey stars in Dragons' victory
St George Illawarra coach Anthony Griffin may have found the answer to his fullback dilemma after an electric display from Cody Ramsey helped the Dragons to their win over the Warriors.
In front of 7,147 fans at a rain-soaked Jubilee Oval in Kogarah, Ramsey returned from a hamstring injury sustained in round three and took to the number one jumper with ease, scoring a try and setting up another.
Griffin has toyed with Tyrell Sloan and Moses Mbye in that role earlier this year, but Ramsey looked every part an NRL fullback in a Dragons side who moved up to 10th on the ladder with the victory.
The loss extends a month of woe for the Warriors, who have just one win in their last five under coach Nathan Brown.
The home side began in the best possible fashion when Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson dropped the first kick-off of the afternoon, allowing Zac Lomax to touch down for the Red V on the very next set.
But from this point it was the Warriors who had the upper hand. Johnson scored one of his own and sent up two aerial kicks for Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to bat back in field for Viliami Vailea to touch down.
Ramsey was the only response the Dragons could offer as he burst into the line and slipped through some feeble Warriors defence to get his first try of the season.
St George Illawarra trailed 14-12 at half-time and the Warriors looked set to pull away when Watene-Zelezniak crossed for his first try of the match.
Fullback Reece Walsh's inaccuracy with the boot — he kicked one from four — proved to be the Warriors' undoing. They also lost star prop Addin Fonua-Blake to injury.
It meant that when NRL debutant Michael Molo barged over the line from close range, the Dragons were level after Lomax converted.
Ramsey had looked threatening whenever he brought the ball back from the backfield and a shift play to the Dragons' right edge allowed him to burst upfield in the play which broke the match open.
Off the back of Ramsey's break, Lomax found his way over the line. He missed his conversion but added a penalty to make it 24-18 with 10 minutes to go.
Despite a late scare from the Warriors in the final 30 seconds, Griffin's side held on for their fifth victory of the season.