The Panthers NSW Cup side recorded their third-straight victory, defeating the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 22-12 at BlueBet Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Peter Wallace gave a number of Jersey Flegg and Ron Massey Cup players an opportunity as the effects of representative selection trickled down the ranks.
The full-strength Canterbury-Bankstown side boasting no less than nine players with NRL experience had the first attacking raid.
A Matt Dufty intercept started a 50 metre plus movement that ended with Panthers fullback and Qld U19s representative Isaiah Iongi beating teammate Christian Crichton and Isaac Lumelume to the ball.
Another promising play from the Bulldogs looked almost certain to put Jayden Okunbor over for the first four-pointer of the game but Logan Cohen stepped up to the challenge, taking on the experienced winger one-on-one to force him into touch.
It was the Panthers who were first to trouble the scorers in the 23rd minute. Lindsay Smith charged at the line before a quick play-the-ball to Luke Sommerton gave the crafty number nine the chance to dive over from dummy-half. Niwhai Puru made no mistake with the conversion from close range, kicking Penrith to a six-point lead.
A knock-on from Dufty gave the Panthers another opportunity to strike six minutes before half-time. A crisp pass from Puru found Tom Jenkins who dived over for his 13th try of the season. The conversion attempt was waved away for 21-year-old Puru, who had to battle the harsh sunlight as the sun set over the BlueBet Stadium.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 10 - BULLDOGS 0
The Bulldogs needed to be first to score in the second half and it was Dufty, with 94 NRL games to his name who stepped up to the plate.
The fullback weaved his way across the defensive line before placing a pin-point grubber which sat up perfectly for Reece Hoffman to open the Bulldogs account. Brandon Wakeham was quick to add the extras, reducing the deficit to four.
A knock-on by the Panthers four minutes later gifted the visitors an opportunity they wouldn’t pass up with Wakeham producing a solo effort from the scrum base to score beside the posts. The Fijian international kicked the Bulldogs to a two-point lead with the conversion in the 57th minute.
With their backs to the wall Panthers lock J’maine Hopgood stepped his way through two would-be tacklers and he charged at the line, bumping off Dufty to put the home side back in front. Jersey Flegg mainstay Jack Cole kicked the conversion to take the score to 16-12.
Left centre Jenkins dived over for his second in the 70th minute thanks to a perfectly placed grubber from second-rower John Faiumu that split the Bulldogs goal-line defence. Cole hit the bullseye with a beautifully struck conversion from touch to give the Panthers a 10-point lead.
The Bulldogs tried valiantly to trouble the scorers in the final minutes but the Panthers held firm and secured top spot on NSW Cup ladder for another week.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 22 - BULLDOGS 12