Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs produced a late try to defeat Penrith Panthers 32-28 in Round 5 of the Jersey Flegg Cup at Belmore Sports Ground on Sunday.
Despite commanding performances from both Niwhai and Hohepa Puru, the Panthers were unable to hold on for victory in the end, suffering their second loss in as many weeks.
Niwhai Puru opened the Panthers account off the back of some early attacking dominance, crossing the line in the sixth minute and converting his own try seconds later.
Needing a response, Canterbury winger Danny Gabrael streamed through the Panthers defensive line off a lovely short ball from Harry Hayes, racing around from the wing to put the ball down behind the posts. Bulldogs centre Eli Clark added the extra two points from in front to level the scores.
Six minutes later, Clark added another try for Canterbury after some crisp passing from Khaled Rajab and Ediq Ambrosyev left him unmarked in the corner.
A tricky kick from touch proved too difficult for Clark, but the Bulldogs maintained their advantage.
Utilising their momentum, Gabrael claimed another four-pointer for Canterbury after catching the ball on the fifth tackle. The young winger produced a beautiful chip and chase, regaining possession of the ball before diving over in the left corner. This time Clark nailed the conversion from out wide extending the Bulldogs lead to 10.
Absorbing the pressure in defence, Puru led the charge in attack, kicking high into the air over the try line allowing second rower Ativalu Lisati enough time to gather the ball and place it on the ground. The conversion attempt from Puru sailed through the posts, bringing the visitors within four points of the lead.
Inspired by his team’s efforts, Isaiah Iongi wanted a piece of the action. The Panthers fullback made an effortless run through the Bulldogs defence, splitting the line to leap through unscathed.
Puru’s conversion attempt fell agonisingly short, as the teams hit the sheds with scores locked at 16 apiece.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 16 - BULLDOGS 16
It only took the Panthers two minutes to regain the lead after the break. This time it was captain Hohepa Puru who created the opportunity, breaking a tackle before passing off his knees to Daniel Sykes who dived over the line.
Niwhai Puru slotted the conversion from close range, putting the Panthers on the front foot.
Bulldogs captain Bailey Hayward generated a comeback play for his team, kicking a high ball that was too hard for the Panthers to catch, allowing Solomon Torrens to gather possession and ground the ball. Clark’s conversion locked the scores once more.
Another superb kick from Niwhai Puru sat up perfectly in goal for William Fakatoumafi to bag four more points for Penrith. Puru’s conversion was perfect, extending the visitors lead to six.
The Bulldogs weren’t finished yet, a courageous run from Elone Taufa gave Compton Fuatimau all he needed to storm down the right edge through the Panthers line, bringing the home side within two points of the win.
But it was Lleyton Borg who sealed the victory for the Bulldogs, scoring in the 56th minute after Rajab broke the Panthers defensive line. Clark nailed the conversion giving Canterbury a four-point lead.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 28 - BULLDOGS 32