James Maloney gives Penrith Panthers thrilling NRL win over South Sydney Rabbitohs

Penrith have fired a shot across the bow of the rest of the NRL, with a clutch James Maloney field goal giving Ivan Cleary's men a thrilling 19-18 win over South Sydney.

After looking rudderless during the opening months of the season, the Panthers have notched wins over premiership fancies the Rabbitohs and Sydney Roosters in consecutive weeks.

Despite both sides missing some of their biggest stars, confidence is suddenly surging through the Panthers.

Losing eight of their first 10, they have strung together four-straight wins to have the rest of the competition looking over their shoulders.

"Things have changed; we started playing like a team," Cleary said.

"But there's so much more in us. We're playing with a lot more (confidence) than what we have. We had next to none a few weeks ago."

While the Panthers are still 14th, they are only two points behind eighth-placed Parramatta and threatening to make a mid-season surge.

Cleary praised rookies Brent Naden, Brian To'o, Mitch Kenny and Liam Martin for injecting enthusiasm and youthful vigour into his outfit.

After winning 10 of their first 11 - and leading the competition three weeks ago - the Rabbitohs have lost three on the trot.

"I don't have to prop morale up after that performance tonight," Souths coach Wayne Bennett said.

"They didn't play flat, they played very hard and played as good as they played for a month. You forget about the scoreboard and look at their effort.

"I'm disappointed but I'm not walking around thinking we can't fix this up."

Already missing Sam Burgess (shoulder) and Tom Burgess (ankle), the Rabbitohs were struck a blow on game day when George Burgess was forced to withdraw because of a virus.

They were also without halfback Adam Reynolds (back) and his replacement Adam Doueihi was substituted in the second half in what was just his third game back from an ACL injury.

In the end, Maloney was the hero, slotting a clutch 75th-minute field goal from 20 metres out just a minute after Cody Walker had botched an attempt up the other end.

The Rabbitohs came storming back into the contest when Liam Knight crossed before a flying James Roberts set up Dane Gagai two minutes later.

But just when the Rabbitohs seemed to have all the momentum, the Panthers hit back when they put the ball through the hands down the left edge and crossed through To'o to level it up at 18-18.

Cleary missed a sideline conversion to take the lead which set up a tense final eight minutes before Maloney kicked the match-winner.