Full Time
3:00pm Sat March 20, 2021
Round 2 - CommBank Stadium, Parramatta - Crowd: 5062

Round 2: Bulldogs v Panthers preview

Battered Bulldogs head west to host rusty Panthers

Having ushered in the Trent Barrett era on the wrong side of the scoreboard against Newcastle, the Bulldogs' quest for competition points doesn't get any easier this week when they tackle Penrith at Bankwest Stadium.

In what is the first of four Canterbury home games scheduled at the Parramatta venue, Barrett knows his astute acquisition of back-line talent will amount to nothing if his forwards fail to aim up in centre field.

With two early try assists against the Knights, Kyle Flanagan quickly eased doubts over his signing. Having kick started his Belmore career on the front foot, the Roosters reject showed fans that with ball in hand he's ready to guide Canterbury around the corner.

But on the back of a miserable 72 per cent completion rate, it wasn't long before all of Canterbury's good work turned to mud. Aside from solid contributions from Adam Elliott and new recruit Jack Hetherington, the Bulldogs were simply outmuscled and eventually overrun by a hungrier Knights pack.

This week Raymond Faitala-Mariner replaces Corey Waddell in the run on side while Jeremy Marshall-King has been listed to replace hooker Brad Deitz on the bench.

Meanwhile, the Panthers showed no signs of runner-up fatigue to easily account for a scoreless North Queensland Cowboys.

It was like Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai never got off the bike. The cruisy-duo created enough opportunities to win several games before halftime, but with rusty finishing the Panthers had to wait until after the break before they skipped clear.

As Canterbury continue to harmonize new combinations, for Ivan Cleary, it's a matter of strengthening what already proved a success last season. With no changes to last week's 17 and the luxury of being able to field 13 members from last season's grand final, a repeat of last year's 42-0 drubbing isn't out of the question.

Winning five of the past seven, Penrith's stranglehold over the Bulldogs extends back to 2016. The positive for Canterbury is that the last four results are shared two apiece including victory in the only clash the sides have contested at Bankwest Stadium.

Last meeting: Round 20 2020 - Bulldogs 0 Panthers 42

Who to watch: Last season Raymond Faitala-Mariner was among Canterbury's best every week. The Samoan and Kiwi international featured in all 20 matches and his weekly average of 107 metres proved enough to claim the Coaches Award. Coming off the bench with only four runs and a sluggish 42 metres against the Knights, look for the powerful 27-year-old to inspire his teammates from the get-go.

Just two rounds into his second full season in the top grade, Stephen Crichton has already cemented his position in one of the most lethal left edge combinations in the competition. In a sign he'll be heavily targeted by opposition coaches, the Cowboys not only held the sleek centre scoreless but restricted him to just one try assist and zero line breaks. On what could be a fast track, don't be surprised if the Origin hopeful breaks the shackles and has a day out.

The favourite: With the exception of Bulldogs diehards, the smart money in this one is stacked at the foot of the mountains.

My tip: Penrith's game plan may still be fresh in Trent Barrett's mind, but stopping his former colleagues with a patch work outfit is an entirely different story. With 17 wins from their past 18, it's difficult to see anything but a comfortable Penrith victory. And if the Bulldogs can't sustain their mongrel, expect the lights to be well and truly out before halftime. Panthers by 22.