Penrith have ridden the wave of a James Segeyaro double – as well as some luck from the video referees – to consolidate their spot in the top four with a 22-16 victory over the Bulldogs on Friday night.
The win halted a worrying two-game slide but came at a major cost, with hard-working lock Elijah Taylor believed to have suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Brent Kite (pec) and Bryce Cartwright (ankle) also picked up injuries in the six-point victory.
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It was the second time in a week Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has lost a player for the season to an ACL, after skipper Peter Wallace busted his knee against Cronulla last week.
But the pain certainly didn't hurt as much as that suffered by a disjointed Bulldogs side, who had three first half tries disallowed and were down 22-0 before scoring the final three tries of the match.
From the moment Sam Kasiano sent Brent Kite careering back onto the ANZ Stadium turf from the first hit up of the match, this clash was always going to be an intense contest between two top four teams.
The tone was set when Bulldogs skipper Michael Ennis was marched ten for entangling himself on a Jamie Soward quick tap. Two minutes later it was his opposite number in James Segeyaro who scurried his way through for a trademark dummy half try under the black dot.
Segeyaro's solo effort ended as the only points of the half, but it was just the prelude to a frenetic ten minute period that infuriated the 11,832 pro-Bulldogs crowd.
First there was a 17th-minute Josh Reynolds pearler off his hip that put Josh Jackson into space – only for the second-rower to be pulled back for a forward pass.
Then there was Chase Stanley's one-on-one in the backfield with Matt Moylan in the 22nd, beating the Panthers fullback to the corner – and popping his shoulder in the process – but ruled by the video referees to have had a layer of skin touching the sideline.
Then when Elijah Taylor suffered his knee injury and turned the ball over in the next set, the home side thought they were in again.
A right-side shift ended in wingman Corey Thompson over in the opposite corner, only to have it again taken off them for an obstruction by Reni Maitua in the lead-up.
But it was the final controversial no-try call on Tim Lafai's effort in the 27th minute – one that Ennis had enthusiastically applauded leading referee Matt Cecchin when he initially called try – that had the Bulldogs truly incensed.
Lafai appeared to have planted the ball over the line but after numerous replays, the call was overruled and judged to have lost grip of the ball before grounding it.
If the Bulldogs faithful had used the half-time breather to calm themselves down, then a 46th minute decision by the referees in the box to award Segeyaro his second would've instantly reddened their faces as the visitors sauntered out to an early 12-0 lead.
Hopes of a comeback lengthened when Penrith's 52nd minute left-side swing ended in Cecchin giving his first try of the match without any help from upstairs to winger Josh Mansour.
Soward's sideline attempt swung wide, but the early gut punches drew the life out of the hosts and Moylan's slicing run through in the 63rd drew an exodus of Bulldogs fans headed to the exits.
The home side eventually broke through for their first points courtesy of a 68th minute Lafai try that got a rapturous applause from the crowd, before Kasiano and Trent Hodkinson added consolation tries in the final ten minutes.
Penrith Panthers 22 (Segeyaro 2, Mansour, Moylan tries; Soward 3 goals) defeated Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 16 (Lafai, Kasiano, Hodkinson tries; Hodkinson 2 goals). Crowd: 11,832.