Shannon Meyer reviews a more competitive first vs last game than expected, as the Origin-depleted Panthers were pushed hard by a Matt Burton inspired Bulldogs.
Penrith Panthers 30
Tries: Chris Smith (4), Dylan Edwards (12), Taylan May (26), Viliame Kikau (32), Jaeman Salmon (63)
Goals: Kurt Falls 5 (6, 14, 34, 65, 70 – pen)
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 18
Tries: Josh Addo-Carr 2 (19, 49), Matt Burton (57)
Goals: Matt Burton 3 (21, 51, 58)
MATCH REPORTEmbed from Getty Images
Friday night’s clash at Penrith may have been first vs last, but with six players out the Panthers would be tested, and they did lose during the State of Origin period last season. But the Bulldogs have hardly been in inspiring form of late, and would struggle to beat even a second-string Panthers side. Not that this Penrith team was second string at all.
It took only five minutes for the competition leaders to hit the front. After being gifted the ball when a promising first tackle Bulldogs attack down the touch line failed, the depth of Penrith was on show as fill-in halfback Sean O’Sullivan provided the perfect cross-field kick for Chris Smith who caught the ball near the posts and scored with ease. The conversion made by debutant Kurt Falls made it 6-0 early.Embed from Getty Images
A promising attacking run by the Bulldogs not long after ended with a poor last-tackle option, and then spoiled all the hard work with penalties for the Panthers, given them field position and possession.
Not long after that the Panthers pounced and went further ahead, down the left-hand side, where they looked like it may be quite the thoroughfare for the evening. As they went left, the Bulldogs and others would have expected Viliame Kikau to charge through the Bulldogs’ line, but this time he drew the Bulldogs’ defender and set Izack Tago flying down the wing, who threw a shaky pass to a trailing Dylan Edwards who did well to scoop up the pass and score in the corner. Falls’ debut keep getting better with a sideline conversion nailed to make it 12-0.
The Bulldogs got another chance to go on the attack after that try, courtesy of a booming kick from ex-Panther Matt Burton and a knock-on from Edwards that he could hardly be blamed for. That kick then brought great reward for the Bulldogs, as the visitors opened their account for the evening through Burton’s boot again: this time it was a fifth tackle grubber to the corner that was swallowed up by Origin discard Josh Addo-Carr. Burton doubled down on his kicking by slotting the sideline conversion: 12-6 was the score with 20 minutes to go to half-time.Embed from Getty Images
This led to a period where the Bulldogs were on top, with repeat sets and a drop out meaning good attacking sets on the Panthers’ line, but Penrith have seen off better attacks in 2022 than the Bulldogs. But the premiers weren’t getting it all their own way, as the Bulldogs were throwing a bit at the home side, with Addo-Carr trying his very hardest.
The Bulldogs didn’t take advantage, and of course were punished for it the next set. After Kikau set up Penrith with a great, powerful run earlier in the set, the Panthers laid on their third try after a spectacular diving put down from Taylan May courtesy of a floating O’Sullivan try assist. The try moved May to the top of the NRL try-scoring charts. Falls missed his first conversion of the night and Penrith were 16-6 up with just under 15 minutes to go to half-time.Embed from Getty Images
Penrith weren’t done yet though, as they extended their lead with seven minutes to go until the break. The Panthers set up their try scoring set with a 40 metre kick return from the very underrated fullback Edwards, then the Panthers machine grinded their way to the Bulldogs line as they do most sets every week. The set was finished off by O’Sullivan finding a charging Kikau on the left, who steamrolled his way through some thin Bulldogs defense close to the line. Kikau was having one of those big games he was capable of, giving his future club at least something to take in from the game. Falls converted to make it 22-6.
The Bulldogs had a few sets to throw at Penrith in the minutes just before half-time, one attempt seeing the Bulldogs held up. But Penrith’s legendary goal-line defense held on and they kept their 22-6 lead heading into the second half.
HALF-TIME: Penrith Panthers 22 Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 6Embed from Getty Images
The opening part of the second half was relatively even, and if anything, the Bulldogs were having the better of it against the Panthers. It seemed their most likely avenue for points was off Burton’s boot, but some dangerous kicks were well handled by Edwards. But the Panthers’ fullback could do nothing about the kick that set up the Bulldogs’ second try of the night.
Using their two best weapons in Burton’s kicking and Addo-Carr’s speed, Matt Burton provided a perfect early tackle cross-field for Addo-Carr, who was left with an open field ahead of him down the left wing to use his speed and burn his way to the line and score his second try of the night. Edwards gave chase to no avail, or progress. Burton added the two points and it now 22-12 and the Bulldogs were going ok against the premiers.
Gifted a run of penalties they don’t often receive, the Bulldogs continued their pressure on Penrith after their second try. Eventually the repeat sets on the Panthers’ line broke them, and this time it was Burton who scored rather than set up the try, as he powered through a small gap in the Panthers’ defensive line after a fine darting run and pass from Bulldogs hooker Jeremy Marshall-King. Burton added the two points for a decent tally for the night, and the Bulldogs were now within four points with 20 minutes to go. Bulldogs fans could well start to dream of a big upset.Embed from Getty Images
But as so often happens for the Bulldogs this season a small error by Paul Vaughan was punished in full, as a set later Penrith extended the lead back out to 10 points. The try was set up by a clever grubber kick from dummy half by Api Koroisau, which got in behind the Bulldogs’ defense and Panthers utility Jaeman Salmon chased best and scored.
Salmon almost claimed a quick-fire double on the very next set as he slammed the ball down next to the post, but was disallowed for a double movement. But the Bulldogs’ momentum was slowed, and their opportunity was lost. That wasn’t helped with multiple penalties, one for a questionable interference call, the other was a dangerous throw tackle on Kikau, which is some effort. The second of those presented Penrith with an easy two points which they took. Nine minutes to go and Penrith were now 30-18 ahead.
Not long after Penrith thought they had the sealed the game, with Tago sliding into score after the Bulldogs appeared to spill an O’Sullivan bomb. The Bunker disagreed, calling a knock-on against Tago, and gave the Bulldogs the slightest of hopes with almost enough time left.
The Bulldogs had enough chances late on to reduce the deficit, but they lacked that cutting edge in attack and no more points were coming.
It was a pretty impressive win for the Panthers, missing six players due to State Origin on Wednesday, but the big names that remained were among the very best for the home side. The rampaging Kikau will probably get the headlines, but as ever Edwards was so reliable, same for Koroisau, and James Fisher-Harris was outstanding among the centre field forwards.
There’s quite a bit to take out of the game for the Bulldogs. The scoreline doesn’t reflect periods of dominance by the Bulldogs, and if they weren’t playing against a rugby league machine that is Penrith these days, they may have got the two competition points. Or maybe not. Burton starred, and Addo-Carr took his chances when offered, but they don’t offer a great deal in attack outside of Burton’s boot.
FULL-TIME: Penrith Panthers 30 Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 18
PLAYER OF THE YEAR POINTSEmbed from Getty Images
3 pts – Viliame Kikau (Panthers), 2 pts – Matt Burton (Bulldogs), 1 pt – Dylan Edwards (Panthers)
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