The Panthers five-match winning streak in the Knock-On Effect NSW Cup is over, falling 30-16 against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at Belmore Sports Ground.
In perfect conditions for rugby league, the understrength Panthers fought hard, but were unable to overcome the Bulldogs in their first meeting since last season’s grand final.
An error by debutant Liam Ison put the Panthers defence under early pressure and they were unable to stop Jordan Samrani reaching out to plant the ball on the tryline in the eighth minute.
A penalty in the following set put the Panthers defence under pressure again almost immediately, cracking when Sam Hughes broke through and found Joseph O’Neill inside to score under the posts.
The Panthers started to find their rhythm midway through the half off the back of repeat sets. After earning a scrum with a bomb, Kurt Falls then combined with Isaiah Iongi to set Daeon Amituanai up in the left-hand corner.
Falls put the Panthers on the attack again in the 27th minute with a pinpoint 40/20, before Eddie Blacker barged his way over the line from dummy-half. Falls converted from next to the posts to lock the scores up at 10-all.
Ison looked to put the Panthers on the attack again late in the half when he raced through the Bulldogs line, only to be called back for an obstruction. It proved to be a crucial call when Eli Clark crossed for the Bulldogs in the following set. Bailey Hayward converted, making the score 16-10 at the break.
The Panthers started the second half with a run of penalties that put them in perfect field position, however an intercept by Declan Casey saw him run 90m to score for the Bulldogs.
That clearly rattled the Panthers, as Ryan Gray broke through in the 52nd minute to set Hayward up near the posts, extending the Bulldogs lead to 26-10.
Needing to be next to score, a smart Falls grubber forced a drop out for the Panthers. From the ensuing set, Blacker crashed over for his second try to cut the deficit to ten with 22 minutes remaining.
That was the end of the scoring for the Panthers though, with two penalty goals in the final minutes allowing the Bulldogs to push the final score to 30-16.