Matt Encarnacion, Western Sydney Correspondent
A sideline conversion from fullback Matt Moylan after the siren has handed Penrith a thrilling 18-16 victory over Canterbury-Bankstown in front of a crowd of 13,291 on Saturday afternoon.
Seven days after co-captain Peter Wallace missed a penalty goal that would've secured a win in Melbourne, the Panthers No. 1 gave Penrith consecutive home victories to open the season for the first time in 14 years.
Bulldogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds came up with two clutch plays in the final quarter of the game to set up what should have been a comeback win for the visitors.
The first came off a blind-side play in the 65th minute, Reynolds creating a two-on-one to hand winger Corey Thompson a try in the left corner. The second, a dazzling individual effort that stood up Panthers winger Kevin Naiqama and sent Drury Low over in the right, should've been the match-winning play.
But a three-man cut-out pass from five-eighth Jamie Soward gave winger Kevin Naiqama a try in the penultimate minute of the match, breaking the hearts of a Bulldogs side that were gallant in defeat.
Penrith opened proceedings in spectacular fashion, centre Dean Whare scoring in the fourth minute with what must now be considered a classic finisher's try – that is, with his frame horizontal to the turf and half his body outside the field of play.
It was an effort matched by the soaring catch and pass from winger David Simmons that preceded it, and the cross field kick by Soward that was delivered before that. Unfortunately Moylan's attempt at goal wasn't as sharp, missing to the right.
It was a play that became a large theme of the first half, as Soward began peppering the under-sized Thompson. His next test in the 12th minute resulted in Josh Morris being penalised for running Simmons off the ball and Adam Docker dropping the ball over the line in the next set.
With the Panthers dominating posession, Soward continued to target the south-west corner and in the 20th minute, Simmons again came up trumps with a relatively easy catch over his smaller counterpart. Moylan this time adjusted his kick and at 10-0, the Panthers were well and truly in control.
But Thompson, playing just his third game of NRL, returned serve on his taller opposition, finding space inside his own half in the 33rd minute, throwing a questionable ball to Morris who had a supporting Hodkinson on the inside. And when the in-form halfback nailed his tenth straight conversion of the season, momentum had been wrestled back to 10-6.
The lead could've been more for the home side if not for a try-saving tackle by that man again – Thompson – who bundled a flying Simmons dead in-goal after the Penrith flyer was again found by a pinpoint Soward kick in the 33rd minute. It was a fitting way for the sides – and both Simmons and Thompson - to go into the break.
Penrith lock Adam Docker was put on report in the 55th minute for a spear tackle on James Graham.
Panthers 18 (Whare, Simmons, Naiqama tries; Moylan 3 oals) def Bulldogs 16 (Hodkinson, Thompson, Low tries; Hodkinson 2 goals). Crowd: 13,291.