Bryce Cartwright has made a compelling case for a NSW call up after firing Penrith to a 28-26 NRL win over South Sydney on Friday night.
While the Panthers five-eighth had a mixed night in defence, he tore the Souths line to shreds, setting up three of the home side's five tries in front of 13,080 at Pepper Stadium.
Penrith hit the lead 16-14, 20 minutes into the second half before Cartwright imposed himself on the contest.
After he and Matt Moylan set up rookie halfback Nathan Cleary, Cartwright came up with the decisive play when he ran at the line and popped a late ball for Chris Grevsmuhl, who would have taken great delight scoring against his former club.
Earlier, Cartwright sent Josh Mansour over for the side's second try in the 31st minute.
While Blues coach Laurie Daley is under pressure to ring in changes for Origin III, he would have been questioning whether Cartwright was up to it when he came up with some questionable defensive decisions, including a bad miss which led to Greg Inglis strolling over to give Souths the lead in the first half.
The loss heaps pressure on the Rabbitohs who have won just twice since round six.
Without NSW halfback Adam Reynolds, who missed due to a shoulder injury, they failed to control the game.
Two late tries to Sam Burgess made for an exciting finish but the Panthers were the better side for most of the contest.
They jumped inside the top eight with the victory and appear to be building nicely with Cleary, 18, again a standout after usurping veteran Jamie Soward in the pecking order.
The Panthers received a big boost prior to the game when NSW representative winger Mansour was re-signed on a two-year deal.
While the Panthers are now on track to make the finals, coach Anthony Griffin admitted he was worried by the lapses in recent games.
However, he said their ability to put sides to the sword and post quick points boded well.
"We've been building and we're playing with a lot more composure down their end of the field," Griffin said.
"I was disappointed how we played down our end tonight, which is normally a strength of ours, but I think we turned over four or five times, which made it really hard on us.
"We didn't get bored with Souths and suddenly the points flooded, it's a sign of a real composed side."
The Rabbitohs face having to win seven of their finals nine games and are due to be boosted next week by the return of Reynolds from a shoulder injury.
Coach Michael Maguire said he wasn't worried about their standing, despite the very real prospect of missing the finals for the first time in his tenure.
"We had our opportunities there and put ourselves into some tough positions that gave them opportunities and you can't do that in the NRL," Maguire said.
"There were times when we showed some good fight in our defence. We've been talking about that for a while, but that's an area we need to tidy up."