The Brisbane Broncos had a huge task at hand, as they looked to move away from the bottom of the ladder against the high-flying Penrith Panthers at Suncorp Stadium.
The Broncos started the brighter of the two sides, with both Sean O’Sullivan and Tom Dearden running the ball and testing the Panthers defence.
After ten minutes of intense pressure, Dearden took the ball to the line, passed out the back to Darius Boyd, and the full-back popped a pass to Kotoni Staggs just off his shoulder to cross for his tenth of the season.
The Panthers were struggling to break through the Broncos stern defence, with the home side looking the stronger of the two sides.
That was until the 25th minute when Jarome Luai paused and pushed off Dearden, before dragging in Richard Kennar, who was covering a poor defensive read from Staggs, to release Josh Mansour to dot down in the corner.
With six minutes to go until the break, the Panthers took the lead through the boot of Cleary, after O’Sullivan was penalised for having a hand in the ruck just ten metres out.
Penrith seemed to click into gear towards the end of the half and extended their lead even further thanks to more magic from Cleary.
He dropped the ball on the outside of his right boot, and Kurt Capewell raced ahead to regather and score with his first touch, on his first game since round five.
HALF-TIME: Brisbane Broncos 6-14 Penrith Panthers
After a bright start from the Broncos, the Panthers looked to be holding on with the home side searching for a way back into the game.
However, just after ten minutes into the half, Penrith extended their lead.
Cleary once again provided an assist of the boot as his kick was weighted perfectly for Luai to chase and ground.
After an hour, the Panthers looked to be in control, but Jordan Riki had other ideas.
Dearden drifted across the field and got on the outside shoulder of Viliami Kikau and Riki, outpaced Dylan Edwards into the corner for his first NRL-try to cut the deficit.
With the Broncos once again hitting back, the Panthers went up yet another gear.
Faster play-the-balls and harder running was taking its toll on a young Broncos side, and the ball was spread out to Brian To’o to slide over with ten minutes to go.
With the game all but won for the Panthers, Clearly sealed the deal with a little over three minutes remaining as he struck a sweet field-goal to make it 12-25.
The Broncos nearly scored a wonder-try in the final 90 seconds, as Staggs palmed off Mansour, broke down the right, kicked inside for Dearden, who kicked ahead himself.
However, Cleary beat his opposite number to the ball to deny the Broncos.
FULL-TIME: Brisbane Broncos 12-25 Penrith Panthers
Boyd, Oates, Staggs, Farnworth, Kennar, O’Sullivan, Dearden, Haas, Luke, Kennedy, Fifita, Te’o, Carrigan
Interchanges: Paix, Riki, Bullemor, Hopoate
Tries: Mansour, Capewell, Luai, To’o
Goals: Cleary (4/5)
Edwards, Mansour, Naden, Crichton, To’o, Luai, Cleary, Tamou, Koroisau, Leota, Kikau, Martin, Fisher-Harris
Interchanges: May, Leniu, Capewell, Tetevano
Tries: Staggs, Riki
Goals: Staggs (1/1)
Referee: M. Cecchin
Touch Judges: C. Butler, B. Sharpe
Video Referee: B. Norrie
Image Source: @NRL (twitter)