Penrith Panthers have some more soul searching to do after being outmuscled in a disappointing 24-12 loss to the Canterbury Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
Despite the return of playmaker Jamie Soward, the Penrith attack again failed to find its rhythm while the defence struggled to contain the massive Bulldogs pack.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary handed a surprise start to Apisai Koroisau, in his first game back from injury, with regular hooker James Segeyaro relegated to the bench and Sika Manu dropping out of the squad.
The Bulldogs, as anticipated, welcomed back Origin stars Josh Morris, Josh Jackson and David Klemmer, but Trent Hodkinson and Brett Morris were rested.
The Panthers lost the opening arm wrestle as some quick hands and a turn-of-speed from Josh Morris in the 9th minute gifted Sam Perrett a try under the posts. It was converted by Moses Mbye for a 6-0 lead.
The Dogs extended their advantage four minutes later as they ran the ball on the last tackle. Spreading it to Curtis Rona, the enigmatic winger managed to plant the ball in acrobatic fashion despite the attention of David Simmons. Making the most of his opportunity with Hodkinson out, Mbye converted from the sideline to make the score 12-0.
There was drama in the 20th minute as Elijah Taylor made a break through the middle and passed to Bryce Cartwright, who put in a deft grubber. The chasing Jamie Soward was taken out by Josh Reynolds with the tryline and bouncing ball beckoning. While Penrith’s appeals for a penalty try were denied by the video referee, Reynolds was sin-binned for his cynical play.
Emotions again boiled over shortly after as Soward was dumped in a lifting tackle from Josh Jackson and Greg Eastwood.
However the Panthers couldn’t make the most of the penalty and their numerical advantage, denied points by solid Canterbury goal-line defence and ineffective fifth-tackle options.
It was only once Reynolds had returned to the field in the 30th minute that the Panthers finally found their first points.
Tossing the ball around with desperate abandon on the last tackle, it eventually landed in the hands of Cartwright on the right edge. He produced a chip over the top, which he somehow snaffled himself to score an unlikely try. Soward slotted the conversion to make it 12-6.
An attempted field goal from Reynolds in the final seconds of the half was waved away.
HALF TIME – Bulldogs 12-6
Back-to-back penalties to the Bulldogs early in the second half left the Panthers defenders scrambling on their own line. After a strong run from Jackson, Perrett dived over from dummy half for the simplest of finishes. It was converted by Mbye to re-establish Canterbury’s 12-point buffer.
Three minutes later and the Dogs were in again through a re-gathered kick from Reynolds. It wasn’t without a touch of fortune, along with a critical touch off Tyrone Peachey. The conversion made it 24-6.
The Panthers thought they had hit back soon after as winger Waqa Blake crossed in the corner but the video referee ruled his hand to have brushed the sideline in the process.
With 20 minutes left to play the Penrith injury curse struck again as Segeyaro limped to the sideline with a knee injury before being carried up the tunnel.
Despite the Panthers’ best efforts, Blake was denied in the 70th minute as the sideline again proved his undoing just as the tryline was within reach.
They had their reward in the 75th minute though as Cartwright took a short ball from Koroisau and touched down between the sticks for his double. The simple conversion made the score 24-12.
Now under threat of losing touch with the top eight, the Panthers have to regroup as they prepare to tackle Wests Tigers at Leichardt Oval next Sunday.
FULL TIME – Bulldogs 24-12