Penrith Panthers rebounded from a last-start defeat to score an impressive 36-12 victory over Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at BlueBet Stadium on Saturday.
The flow-on effect of Origin selection meant coach Jono Rolfe had to select a number of rookies including SG Ball premiership winners Keagan Russell-Smith, Ryley Smith and Mason Teague.
Teague and Russell-Smith both scored tries in the 24-point victory, while Addison Williams nailed six from six conversions.
The start for both sides was far from ideal with a number of handling errors and penalties thwarting any attacking threat until Hanna El-Nachar lunged through the line to score the opening try for Penrith in the 10th minute. Williams slotted the conversion from in front to extend the Panthers lead to six.
Five minutes later Bulldogs captain Bailey Hayward targeted the right edge, kicking the ball high into the air to give winger Jordi Mazzone the chance to score. A number of Bulldogs raced to ground the loose ball, but ultimately it was Mazzone who claimed the four-pointer. Hayward couldn’t convert the try from medium-range.
Luke Rouland was placed on report for a mid-air tackle on Keagan Russell-Smith which left the young five-eighth with an injury concern, but he returned to play shortly after being assessed by the trainer.
The Panthers scored three tries in six minutes to end the first-half on a high, with Tyreece Tonga and Connor Mason diving through the posts to score in the 28th and 31st minutes respectively.
A beautiful passage of play from Penrith set up Brad Fearnley’s try in the 34th minute after a strong run from Hohepa Puru helped the home team 30 metres downfield. Fullback William Fakatoumafi broke the line later in the set, sprinting past the defence before kicking a grubber in behind the posts which bounced up perfectly for the backrower to plant the ball down.
Williams converted all three tries to send Penrith to the sheds with a 20-point advantage.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 24 - BULLDOGS 4
SG Ball Grand Final winners Mason Teague and Keagan Russell-Smith combined to score Penrith’s first try of the second half with the Panthers juniors passing back and forth before Russell-Smith grounded the ball. Williams converted the try to put the Panthers ahead by 26.
The game stopped for more than half-an-hour when an ambulance was called for Bulldogs forward Caleb Laiman, who injured himself attempting to make a tackle.
Canterbury-Bankstown scored off the restart through Khaled Rajab despite the valiant attempt from Ryley Smith to intercept the final pass. Hayward failed to convert, leaving the score 30-8.
Mazzone bagged his second try of the day for the visitors after a kick landed perfectly in his hands, allowing him to ground the ball unmarked in the corner. Hayward struggled to kick the conversion from touch.
Granted repeat sets on their try line, a skilful play from Connor Mason sealed the Panthers victory in the final minute, with the hooker kicking a grubber from dummy-half to send Teague over for a try. Williams made it a perfect day on the boot, nailing his sixth conversion.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 36 - BULLDOGS 12