Penrith takes over NRL lead with easy win over Dragons

SYDNEY (AP) The National Rugby League has a new competition leader for the first time this season after the Penrith Panthers outclassed St. George Illawarra 28-2, dropping the Dragons into second place.

The star Penrith halves duo of Nathan Cleary and James Maloney played strongly on the back of a forward pack that dominated their highly-rated counterparts. Panthers coach Anthony Griffin said it was their best game of the season.

”I just liked the way our whole team handled the occasion,” Griffin said. ”Obviously there were a lot of good things in attack and defense.”

The victory on Saturday lifted the Panthers equal with the Dragons on competition points (18) and points differential ( 109); however, they move into top spot on percentages.

Cronulla moved into fourth place on Sunday with a 48-10 win over Newcastle, the Sydney team’s sixth win in a row. The Wests Tigers had a chance to move into the top eight when they played the Canterbury Bulldogs in the last match of the round later Sunday.

South Sydney stayed in third place and helped drop the New Zealand Warriors to fifth with a 30-10 win over the New Zealand side. The Sydney Roosters beat Gold Coast 34-14 to move into seventh place.

Melbourne captain Cameron Smith scored the Storm’s only try to give his sixth-place side a 7-6 win over North Queensland. It was the Cowboys’ eighth loss in 10 home matches at Townsville.

An Aidan Sezer field goal with 20 seconds remaining gave Canberra a 21-20 comeback win over Manly. The Raiders were down 12 points in the first half.

The Brisbane Broncos helped coach Wayne Bennett celebrate his 800th NRL game with an 18-10 win over Parramatta.

It marked Bennett’s 496th win of his career in his 32nd season, along with seven league titles.

Bennett was the subject of speculation over the past week that he might not see out the final year of his contract next season, and that the Broncos were interested in signing Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy.