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The Penrith Panthers are the 2018 SG Ball premiers, downing the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 25-14 in what was an incredibly intense contest at Leichhardt Oval.
Led by their inspirational skipper Shawn Blore, the Panthers - having lost only one game all season - were deserved premiers after coming out on top of what was a see-saw affair. The Bulldogs were equally good, just not for as long or as often as the Panthers were on the day, as both sides turned up to put on an entertaining match for all of those in the stands or on the hill.
Penrith started the match with perfection when off the back of a stray offload, Hayden Bonanno summed up the situation by throwing a smart pass to Zach Cini who then broke out of a tackle and ran 50 metres to the try-line, beating the opposition fullback on the way there.
Ethan Clark-Wood made a dash down the opposite sideline to put Penrith back on the attack, but the Bulldogs defended their way out of a possible double-digit deficit by forcing an error.
The Bulldogs next set was breathtaking; Penisimani Teaupa made a barnstorming line-break down the middle of the field, before halfback James Valevatu delivered a pin-point kick to the corner of Logen Dillion, who athletically caught the ball AFL-style and scored.
When Clark-Wood got his next opportunity, he made sure he turned it into points when the Panthers produced a short-side play that saw Matt Burton put in a grubber behind the defence, and the ball sat up perfectly for the speedy winger to score.
Some quality scramble defence was the only thing stopping Cini from getting his second try, as the winger found space to sneak through before some desperate Bulldogs players bundled him into touch.
Once again, the Bulldogs found points off the back of a try-saving defensive effort; Ryan Gray made a line-break through the middle of the field to put his side on the attack, before some smart play from Dillion saw him put Jake Averillo in for a try.
The momentum was with the Bulldogs, and off the back of some second phase play, Iverson Fuatimau punched through a hole, and passed on for his supporting fullback Tyrone Harding to run away and take a 14-10 lead.
With the first half producing such great tries, Penrith scored a scrappy one to begin the second half when a ball was knocked down by the Bulldogs and Shawn Blore simply picked the ball up from the ground and dived over.
It looked as though the Bulldogs had the next try, but the referee ruled that Dillon did not ground the ball, while Penrith were denied thanks to a forward pass just moments later, highlighting how tense the match was.
It was only a matter of time before live wire fullback Charlie Staines put his stamp on the match with 20 minutes remaining he charged onto a ball at speed and darted through a hole to push the lead beyond a converted try.
The match was already spicy enough, but the ever-present Dillon found himself in extremely hot water, sent off the field for an eye gouge with his team down by eight on the scoreboard.
The Bulldogs missed a golden opportunity with seven minutes remaining, when Chase Chapman threw a pass that was beautifully read by Averillo for an intercept, but he put the ball down.
Penrith wound down the clock with a penalty goal, with their spirit and energy prevalent until the final siren where Hayden Bonanno slotted a field goal in what would be the final play of their premiership-winning season.
This article originally appeared at NSWRL.com.au.
Penrith Panthers 25 Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 14
Venue: Leichhardt Oval
Date: Saturday 5 May 2018 at 4:00pm
Penrith Panthers (25)
Tries: Zach Cini, Ethan Clark-Wood, Shawn Blore, Charlie Staines
Goals: Stephen Crichton 3, Matt Burton 1
Field Goals: Hayden Bonnano 1
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (14)
Tries: Logen Dillon, Jake Averillo, Tyrone Harding
Goals: Jake Averillo 1