NSW coach Brad Fittler will be fitting James Maloney for his New South Wales jersey tomorrow after the Panthers' halfback put on a clinic to lead his team to a come from behind 22-14 victory over the Bulldogs at Panthers Stadium this evening.
The Blues incumbent was dominant, having a hand in all three of the Panthers tries and kicking five from six goals an ultra impressive performance from the two time premiership winner. The win however was soured for the home side, with talented fullback Dylan Edwards coming from the field early in the second half with a dislocated shoulder, which is likely to see Edwards spend some time on the sidelines.
The game turned into a spiteful encounter late, with Bulldogs enforcer David Klemmer sent to the Sin Bin, after Bulldogs five-eighth Jeremy Marshall-King was hammered in an early contender for hit of the year from Panthers centre Dean Whare, who absolutely demolished the Dogs five-eighth in a perfectly executed tackle which sparked a melee between both sides.
The brawl had been simmering along however, when minutes before Trent Merrin and Klemmer got stuck into each other from a scrum and following that a few hits between both sides in a loss that will have the Canterbury pack feeling a little worse for wear tomorrow morning.
Earlier, the home side had fired the first shot, when after an early 4-1 penalty count in their favour, halfback Maloney took the gift two points on offer, after the Panthers number 7 caused some issues for the Bulldogs right edge early and Penrith were out to a 2-0 lead after 11 minutes.
Canterbury came out with a great attitude in defence early in the first half with representative forwards David Klemmer and skipper Josh Jackson putting on some strong one on one tackles to really challenge the Panthers big men.
It was the Bulldogs attack though which received the biggest criticism during the week and they turned that around early, with some crisp passing from Jackson and Moses Mbye who combined close to the line to send Marcelo Montoya over for the first try of the night. Mbye nailed the conversion from the sideline and it was 6-2 to the visitors.
The Dogs defence continued to intimidate when terrific line speed from David Klemmer and Michael Lichaa drove the Panthers offenceback in goal, with the ball spilling free and Tyrone Peachey just managing to extinguish an almost embarrassing try for the home side.
Canterbury continued to attack down the left hand side, when Kieran Foran took the ball to the line, and again Josh Jackson put his outside man into space, with Will Hopoate slicing through with a delightful show and go to score under the posts and extend the lead to 12-2 to the visitors.
Penrith looked on the ropes before the break, however some poor errors at crucial times saw the Panthers get a chance just before the break and Maloney obliged when he found space for makeshift centre Corey Harawera-Naera who strolled over to keep the home side in the contest at halftime.
After the break, the Panthers showed their intentions early, turning the tables with effective line speed and driving the Bulldogs big men back. This rattled the Bulldogs pack, forcing multiple handling errors which granted the Panthers perfect field position for Maloney to turn the screws, when he placed a pinpoint kick towards the Bulldogs tryline, which found man mountain Villiame Kikau who offloaded for Moses Leota who crashed over for the second try of his career, putting the home side in front 14-12.
An enthusiastic Jack Hetherington then came on from the interchange, only to give away a cheap penalty which allowed Moses Mbye to tie up the scores at 14 all after 52 minutes and it looked as though the game was headed for a blow by blow finish.
Another Maloney penalty nudged the home side in front and from there the Panthers half took the game by the scruff of the neck, creating the match winner for Isaah Yeo and putting the Dogs out of the game with a final penalty goal with six minutes remaining to create an unassailable lead for the Mountain Men.
The win sees the Panthers secure their place in the Top 4, and they now travel to their annual home game in Bathurst, where they will host Jonathan Thurston's Cowboys next Friday night. In some good news, the Panthers will look to welcome back hooker Peter Wallace and young gun Tyrone May, who is due to return from an ACL injury suffered in last year's finals series.
For the Bulldogs it was another disappointing performance from Dean Pay's men, despite looking more like the side that defeated the Cowboys in Townsville in Round 6 early in the first half, the Dogs simply fell away in the second half, which will really start to push the coaching staff's patience before they travel to Suncorp Stadium on Thursday to face the Broncos in what is now a must win clash.