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Panthers outlast Bulldogs to kick-start their season with first victory
In a game that never rose to any great heights due to the humid conditions contributing to an error-filled performance from both sides, Penrith was aided by an ill-disciplined Bulldogs outfit that conceded a plethora of penalties, to grind out an unconvincing 22-12 victory at SportingBet Stadium.
Although Garth Brennan will be pleased to get the first win of the season under his belt, there is no doubt still the Panthers will need to improve immensely especially when in possession of the ball as they prepare to face the top two teams in the NSW Cup in consecutive weeks, Wentworthville & Mounties.
Interest in this match was heightened by the late inclusions of Sam Kasiano & Moses Mbye for the Bulldogs while for Penrith the withdrawal of Eddie Aiono to injury & Isaac John to first grade duties provided NSW Cup debuts to NYC centre/wing Regan Haika and 2013 Holden Cup premiership prop, Mitch Clark, who had only recently returned to the Panthers after an opportunity at Wentworthville failed to materialise. Haika & Clark stretched the total number of players to debut in the NSW Cup team to 6 in just 3 games to date.
Both sides opened the game struggling to complete their sets but it was the Bulldogs who were able to put first points on the board after taking advantage of an error by fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak close to his own try line. From the ensuing set, a quick spread right allowed Jarryd Dodd to take advantage of the overlap created to put his winger Tyrone Phillips for the opening try from close range. Templeman's conversion from out near the touchline gave the Bulldogs a 6-0 lead.
Winger Kayne Brennan was put on report for a high tackle on Watene-Zelezniak in the 20th minute & was replaced by Anthony Cherrington making his first appearance for the Panthers for the season after serving a two-game suspension result from an incident in last year's grand final. Cherrington's entry into the game forced a reshuffle in the Panthers backline, but it didn't deter the Panthers as a wonderful short pass from halfback Liam Ayoub put the back-rower on a 25m run to the try line only to spill the ball in the process of diving short of the line, costing his side their first points for the game.
The Bulldogs allowed Penrith to build pressure on their try line through a combination of errors & penalties conceded & the Panthers finally scored on the half hour when a Kierran Moseley short ball from dummy half allowed prop Shaun Spence to crash over from close range. Wes Naiqama's conversion levelled the scores at 6-6.
The Bulldogs were nearly made to pay for another string of errors & penalties when Penrith, playing deep in Bulldogs territory, moved the ball out right to Nathan Smith playing in the centres at this point in time got the offload away to make-shift winger, Tom Eisenhuth but he couldn't handle the ball with one to beat from close range.
The Panthers took the lead soon after in the 37th minute when another Bulldogs error allowed Penrith to spread ball out to the right where Wes Naiqama was able to put Watene-Zelezniak in for the try out on the right from 10m out. The conversion from Naiqama allowed Penrith to go to halftime leading 12-6.
The Bulldogs continued to give away silly penalties early in the second half but Penrith couldn't take advantage making several errors when in possession. When the Bulldogs were able to maintain possession, winger Kayne Brennan went close to scoring in the 51st minute, doing everything right on a 20m run cutting back in off his wing only to drop the ball going over the try line.
Penrith made the Bulldogs pay for that mistake 6 minutes later when Cherrington from 35m out made a run at the Bulldogs left fringe before providing a great offload inside to Naiqama who in turn found the debutant, Mitch Clark backing up to score next to the posts. The conversion giving Penrith its biggest lead of the match 18-6.
The Bulldogs managed to get themselves back into the game with 13 minutes remaining when five eighth Pat Templeman feigned to go right from dummy half & provided a terrific cut out pass to his winger Kayne Brennan who this made no mistake in scoring in the left corner from 10m out. Templeman's conversion from the sideline had Penrith nervous leading just 18-12.
The Bulldogs continued to apply plenty of pressure on Penrith in the closing 10 minutes but were unable to come up with the play that would allow them to level the scores. A Lachlan Burr shoulder charge late in the game allowed Penrith the opportunity to close out the match, which they were able to in the 79th minute when Ayoub feigned to go for the drop goal from 30m out before going out left to five eighth, Will Smith who was able to go to the line before rolling in a grubber into the in-goal where another debutant, winger Peter Haika was able to pounce on the loose ball to put the match beyond doubt at 22-12.
Best for Penrith was debutant Mitch Clark who played some big minutes considering he hadn't played any footy for nearly a month & was making his debut at this level. Wes Naiqama was also instrumental once he shifted to fullback while Ryan Simpkins was at his industrious best working himself into a standstill in defence. The Bulldogs were their own worst enemy but Pat Templeton continues to show why many Bulldog fans rate him as the next big thing.
Penrith 22 (T: Spence, Watene-Zelezniak, Clark, Haika; G: W Naiqama 3 from 4) def. Canterbury 12 (T: Phillips, Brennan; G: Templeman 2 from 2)