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Penrith unlikely leaders as NRL season reaches midpoint

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SYDNEY - Penrith hoisted itself to the top of Australia's National Rugby League standings at the midway point of the season by beating Gold Coast 36-14 in the weekend's 13th round.

The Panthers' fourth-straight win placed them equal on 18 championship points with the Bulldogs and Manly who met in the opening match of the round, a contest won 32-10 by Manly. Penrith leads the Bulldogs and Sea Eagles on points differential.

Penrith's lead is unexpected after their moderate form of recent seasons, having finished no higher than 11th in the past three years, but the team has shown the benefit of patient development under coach Ivan Cleary.

"It's good but no-one hands out bouquets halfway," Cleary said.

"We looked more likely to score when we were defending than when we were attacking. We might have lost that game earlier in the season. We need to improve a fair bit and show a bit more over the next half of the season."

Penrith's margin was flattering after three tries in the last five minutes, all by Gold Coast errors in possession.

Gold Coast was an early pacesetter this season but has now slipped to 10th place.

"We took it for granted we were going to be one of the teams at the end because we were winning a few games," Titans captain Greg Bird said. "We haven't improved and everyone else has gone past us."

South Sydney's Greg Inglis suffered an ankle injury as the Rabbitohs beat the New Zealand Warriors 34-18 in Perth, inflating their winning margin with five tries in the last 21 minutes. The Warriors led 14-6 after 50 minutes but tries to Dylan Walker and Kyle Turner within two minutes wrested the lead Souths' way and they finished with a double to Dave Tyrell and a try to Joel Reddy.

St. George's Benji Marshall made a mark in the third match of his comeback to rugby league after a failed switch to rugby union, taking a hand in five of his team's six tries as the Dragons beat Cronulla 30-0.

Manly fullback Brent Stewart scored two tries in an influential performance as the Sea Eagles overcame early pressure to beat the Bulldogs and Parramatta held off a strong late finish from North Queensland to win 18-16.

Wests beat Newcastle 23-20, inflicting the Knights' sixth-straight loss, and the Sydney Roosters beat weakened Melbourne 32-12.

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