The Panthers lifted the J.J. Giltinan Shield on the back of a 42-0 demolition of Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
In their final game of the regular season, the Panthers dismantled the Bulldogs to carry a fifteen-game winning streak into next week’s Qualifying Final at Panthers Stadium. The result means that the Panthers enter the NRL Finals series with just one loss all season.
The Panthers’ left edge had a field day, as Jarome Luai assisted four tries while Kurt Capewell and Brent Naden scored two each. Josh Mansour and Matt Burton also scored tries down the left edge, to join Brian To’o and James Tamou on the scoresheet.
The Panthers NRL Finals campaign will begin at Panthers Stadium next week, against either Sydney Roosters, Parramatta Eels or Canberra Raiders, pending results elsewhere.
The Panthers were given an early scare when the Bulldogs kicked a 40/20 and went on the attack. But the Minor Premiers absorbed the pressure and went on to bag the opening try to take a 4-0 lead after six minutes.
To'o dives over for the opener
A darting run by Api Koroisau put the Panthers on the attack, and on the next tackle Nathan Cleary shifted it right. Stand-in fullback Daine Laurie swiftly got on the outside of his defender and created a two-one-one for Brian To’o to score in the corner.
The Bulldogs had a number of chances to hit back, but could not find a way through the Panthers goal-line defence. The home side’s frustration appeared to boil over in the 15th minute, as Luke Thompson was placed on report for allegedly eye gouging Panthers captain James Tamou.
The Panthers looked a little sluggish through the first 30 minutes, as the Bulldogs dominated field position and had plenty of attacking chances.
But the Minor Premiers roared to life late in the first half, as they scored three tries in the blink of an eye to take a 22-0 lead into the break.
Jarome Luai got the ball rolling in the 31st minute, as he dabbed a lovely grubber to the in-goal. Kurt Capewell got in behind the Bulldogs defence, and got down low to dive on the ball for a try.
Capewell pounces on a Luai grubber
Next, Nathan Cleary switched the play from right to left, where Jarome Luai sliced through the Bulldogs defence. Luai then found Brent Naden cutting in on his inside, and the centre juggled the ball before sliding over under the posts.
The Panthers marched upfield from the kick-off, and a gorgeous pass by Nathan Cleary put Brent Naden into open space. With defenders closing in, Naden dropped it onto his right boot and Kurt Capewell chased down the kick to score a first-half double.
Luai splits the defence and finds Naden in support
Cleary knocked over his third-consecutive conversion, as the Panthers took a sizable lead into the break.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 22 – BULLDOGS 0
After Luai came within inches of scoring in the early stages of the second half, the five-eighth assisted his third try of the afternoon as the Panthers hit a 26-0 lead in the 50th minute.
In a lovely set play, Capewell passed out the back to Luai, who then spun it to Josh Mansour. The winger had little room to work with, but managed to launch himself over in the corner to score the Panthers’ fifth try.
Mansour joins the party for Penrith
A sixth try came in the 54th minute, this time through a great piece of improvisation.
After Nathan Cleary’s grubber came up short of the in-goal, Kurt Capewell cleverly used his shin to propel the ball forward, and Brent Naden tracked it down to score his second try.
The conversion by Cleary from out wide extended the Panthers’ lead to 32-0.
Capewell returns the favour for Naden
Despite having a win wrapped up, the Panthers were not about to get complacent with Finals just around the corner. The Panthers relentlessly defended their goal-line for an extended period in the second half, as they looked to keep the Bulldogs to nil.
Up the other end, the Panthers onslaught continued. Jarome Luai came up with yet another try assist when he went short to Matt Burton, who barged over at left centre to make it 36-0.
Burton finishes backline movement
Luke Thompson looked set to break the Bulldogs’ drought when barged for the try line in the 74th minute, but the Panthers came up with another remarkable defensive effort to force a knock on.
Panthers captain James Tamou put an exclamation point on the remarkable victory, as he bulldozed through three defenders to score.
Nathan Cleary converted to make it a 42-point victory and kick off the Panthers’ Minor Premiership celebrations.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 42 – BULLDOGS 0