The Panthers left plenty of room for improvement heading in to the regular season after going down to the Bulldogs 24-10 at Belmore Sports Ground on Saturday.
Despite a solid opening, the Panthers shot themselves in the foot with penalties and errors to gift the Bulldogs with numerous opportunities to pile on the points.
Early pressure from the Panthers was made to count inside the opening ten minutes when Reagan Campbell-Gillard received a short ball from Nathan Cleary to charge through and score. Cleary had no problems converting to give his side a 6-0 lead.
Cleary almost had a second assist midway through the opening half when his stabbed kick sat up invitingly for Tyrone Peachey but the centre was called for offside.
Instead the Bulldogs would score back-to-back tries to work their way in to a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
Rhyse Martin’s piercing run close to the line drew them level after Kerrod Holland slotted the extras to make it 6-all. Then some frantic play in attack fell fortuitously for Josh Cleeland to put Tom Carr over to score on the stroke of half-time and lead 10-6 after Holland failed with his second attempt.
HALFTIME: Panthers 6 – 10 Bulldogs
A rusty Panthers outfit returned from the sheds following the break and conceded back-to-back penalties leading to a try from Fa’amanu Brown in the 48th minute. Holland added the extra points to push the score out to 16-6.
Josh Bergiman added a fourth on the hour mark after a set play from a scrum drew the attention of the Panthers defence and left the winger unmarked to hand is side a 20-6 following an unsuccessful conversion.
Bergiman had his second try in the 69th minute when he reacted quickest to a loose ball to plant the ball down just inside the dead ball line. Holland’s conversion faded just off target to remain 24-6.
The Panthers managed to grab a late consolation try after some quick hands from Dylan Edwards and Waqa Blake led to Christian Crichton diving over in the corner. Cleary’s conversion sailed off target as the Bulldogs went on to claim a 24-10 victory.
FULLTIME: Panthers 10 – 24 Bulldogs