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The Penrith Panthers overcame losing stars Ryan Girdler and Preston Campbell to injury to triumph over the Bulldogs 40-29 in one of the games of the season this afternoon at Penrith Football Stadium.
Played before a capacity crowd, the first 60 minutes was end to end high octane Rugby League at its best with Luke Priddis and Braith Anasta starring for their respective sides. But in the last 20 minutes, some great attacking play from the Panthers and some bad options in attack from the Bulldogs resulted in the game being played inside the Bulldogs half, and the Panthers were able to score three unanswered tries to shut the Bulldogs out of the contest.
But it wasn't all peaches and cream for the Panthers as the Bulldogs went into the sheds for oranges leading 25-18 and the Panthers had to deal with losing five-eighth Ryan Girdler to a hamstring injury in the 33rd minute. A backline reshuffle landed winger Amos Roberts in the five-eighth position.
Then with the Panthers trailing 29-28 in the 66th minute, they suffered another major blow with Preston Campbell going to the sideline with what appeared to be a knee injury. But with Luke Priddis having his best game since last year's Grand Final, where he won the Clive Churchill medal, and Amos Roberts taking to his new position like a duck to water, it was only going to be a matter of time before the Panthers were going to break through the Bulldogs' defence.
Today the Panthers showed that last year's Grand Final was no fluke, even without their big guns Gower, Girdler and Campbell. For the Bulldogs, all is not lost as they would have defeated almost any other side in the NRL today. Braith Anasta returned to the form that saw him win the rookie of the year award in 2001 and go to England with the Kangaroos in the same year.
Scorers: PANTHERS 40 Tries: Waterhouse 2, Priddis, Lewis, Girdler, Galea, Galuvao Goals: Girdler 2/2, Campbell 2/3, Roberts 2/2 defeated BULLDOGS 29 Tries: Patten 3, Tonga, Sherwin Goals: El Masri 4/6, Anasta FG
By the clock: 0 min: Kick Off
5 min: News: Willie Mason and Martin Lang go hammer and tong at each other. Mason is the one who gets penalised while the Bulldogs are in possession.
6 min: News: Both forward packs are tearing into each other.
8 min: Try-Bulldogs: Bulldogs fullback Luke Patten scores after running onto a terrific offload by bad boy Willie Mason which drew in 3 defenders. Goalkicking wizard is unsuccessful with the conversion attempt. Bulldogs 4-0.
11 min: News: Bulldogs prop Mark O'Meley is taken off the field suffering from concussion.
13 min: Try-Panthers: 2003 Clive Churchill medalist Luke Priddid burrows over for the Panthers first try of the afternoon. Ryan Girdler is successful with the conversion. Panthers 6-4.
16 min: Try-Panthers: Centre Luke Lewis scoots through to score after running onto a great cut out pass from half back Preston Campbell. Ryan Girdler is successful with the simple conversion. Panthers 12-4.
19 min: Try-Bulldogs: Fullback Luke Patten scores his second try of the afternoon after backing up a break by Bulldogs interchange player Reni Maitua. Hazem El Masri is successful with the conversion. Panthers 12-10.
23 min: Goal-Bulldogs: Hazem El Masri is successful with an attempt at a penalty goal after Panthers prop Martin Lang is penalised for stealing the ball in a 2 on 1 tackle. 12 all.
28 min: Try-Bulldogs: Luke Patten crosses for his hat trick after backing up a break made by Willie Tonga which started on the Bulldogs 20 metre line: Hazem El Masri is successful with the conversion. Bulldogs 18-12.
33 min: Try-Panthers: Intercept king Ryan Girdler intercepts a pass form Bulldogs half back Brent Sherwin and runs the length of the field to score under the posts but pulls a hamstring in the process. Preston Campbell is successful with the conversion. 18 all.
39 min: Field Goal-Bulldogs: Bulldogs 5/8th Braith Anasta kicks a field goal from 35 metres out to give the Bulldogs a 7 point buffer.
Halftime Report: In a hectic end to end game the Bulldogs spearheaded by Braith Anasta and 3 tries by Luke Patten look to have the Panthers measure. If trailing by 7 points isn't enough the Panthers will have to try and win this game without the experience of Ryan Girdler after he pulled a hamstring scoring a length of the field intercept try. If the Panthers are going to be any hope this afternoon halfback Preston Campbell needs to step up and the Panthers will need to shut down Braith Anasta and Luke Patten who are popping up everywhere.
44 min: Try-Panthers: Trent Waterhouse scores after pouncing on a grubber kick from Amos Roberts which bounced off the legs of a Bulldogs player. Preston Campbell is successful with the conversion. Bulldogs 25-24.
47 min: Try-Bulldogs: Half Back Brent Sherwin pounces on a grubber kick put in by Braith Anasta to score. Hazem El Masri is unsuccessful with the conversion. Bulldogs 29-24.
52 min: News: A controversial decision by referee Sean Hampstead after a kick by Amos Roberts is touched by Bulldogs centre Ben Harris on way to the dead ball line but Hampstead rules that Harris didn't play at the ball despite replays saying otherwise.
56 min: Try-Panthers: Danny Galea scores after some smart play by Luke Priddis out of dummy half. Preston Campbell is unsuccessfulw with the conversion that would have put the Panthers in the lead.
66 min: News: A major blow for the Panthers as Preston Campbell who has caused the Bulldogs defence endless amount of trouble in the second half comes off with a knee injury.
68 min: News: Ryan Girdler who in the 1st half injured his hamstring is warming up on the sideline.
75 min: Try-Panthers: Trent Waterhouse runs onto a great pass by Luke Priddis to score his 2nd try of the afternoon and put the Panthers in the lead. Amos Roberts is successful with the conversion. Panthers 34-29.
79 min: Try-Panthers: Joe Galuvao scores in the corner to wrap up proceedings after Danny Galea pulls in a cross field bomb and then throws an inside pass to Galuvao. Amos Roberts is successful with the conversion. Panthers 40-29.
Fulltime Report: In one of the games of the year both sides have put their hands up as premiership contenders for the 2004 Telstra Premiership in an action packed game that just didn't slow down. Both sides can take a lot out of today's game and I'll be looking forward to the return clash in Round 21 clash at Telstra Stadium. ----------------------------------------- Leagueunlimited.com players of the match: 3 - L Priddis (Panthers) 2 - A Roberts (Panthers) 1 - B Anasta (Bulldogs) -----------------------------------------