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Bulldogs 28 def Penrith Panthers 26THE game’s greatest point-scorer stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park… was there ever any doubt?

After 78 frantic minutes with both the Panthers and Bulldogs doing enough to win or lose three games, Bulldogs five-eighth Ben Roberts sliced through to score and Hazem El Masri piloted the conversion through the sticks to consign the Panthers to another loss and keep the ’Dogs’ unbeaten start to the year alive.

Unbeaten, yes – but Bulldogs fans were in an uproar days later when they became the seventh club in history to be docked their two competition points for fielding 14 men – Andrew Ryan being nabbed on video in the game-defining minute rejoining the field to complete the team’s complement of players while hooker Michael Ennis was being treated by a trainer.

But back to the actual game: the pace of play was akin to Usain Bolt at times, meaning both sides struggled to keep up. As the night wore on they both appeared to be more Eric ‘The Eel’ Moussambani (Remember? Sydney 2000?) than Bolt, as fatigue contributed to errors and errors led to tries. Still the excitement factor remained through the roof.

Now last year’s wooden spooners look like potential world beaters, while Penrith still essentially look rudderless in attack… incredibly they couldn’t win the game despite an 81 per cent completion rate.

The Game Swung When… This game swung more times than a porch flyscreen door in summer. But the big moment came with less than five minutes remaining on the clock. Panthers halfback Jarrod Sammut tried to catch out the Bulldog defence by taking them on up the middle but appeared to ‘miss-hear’ a call of held and there was uproar as he was penalised for grounding the ball for what he believed was a try. With his forward momentum debatably still going, Sammut believed he was entitled to fall to the ground to score what would have been a match-clincher but referee Matt Cecchin disagreed and penalised the young half for playing on after the “held” call.

Not long after, Roberts was celebrating his touchdown at the other end… and El Masri was lining up to shove some nails in the Panthers’ coffin.

It also swung big-time when the Dogs were later stripped of their points…

Who Was Hot… The former Brisbane connection of David Stagg and Greg Eastwood were brilliant for the Bulldogs. Stagg was his usual stoic self in defence, making a mammoth 53 tackles without missing any but he also added a try, 100 metres gained and a try assist.

Eastwood, in his first match as a Bulldog after just a few training sessions, provided the key offloads or runs in crucial moments and even scored a try of his own.

For the Panthers former Test star Trent Waterhouse was impressive with two tries, 30 tackles and 10 tackle breaks.

Who Was Not… After being one of the Bulldogs’ best in Round 1 prop Ben Hannant won’t like seeing 10 missed tackles to his name this week.

Also, Michael Ennis missed seven tackles and kicked out on the full on successive kick-offs!

Jarrod Sammut is still struggling to take charge of the Panthers’ attack, without a lot of success.

Five-eighth Luke Lewis looked threatening at times and Sammut did almost score a match-winner but essentially the pair failed to make the most of generous field position.

Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… El Masri’s pressure-cooker conversion at the death was ultra-impressive – even though you wouldn’t have bet against him in a million years.

Special mention to Petero Civoniceva’s try assist for Paul Aiton early in the match. The old-stager produced a clever flick pass while being felled by two Bulldogs defenders to give Aiton a clear run to the line.

Bad boys… Panther Gavin Cooper will be sidelined for a game after being charged with dangerous contact (translation: grapple-like tackle) after a tackle in the opening 10 minutes.

Injuries… Bulldogs forward Gary Warburton was despatched to hospital to have scans on his neck after feeling some discomfort in the first half. Halfback Brett Kimmorley suffered a cut above the eye from a stray boot, but is fine.

Refs Watch… Matt Cecchin and Chris James seemed to manage okay until Cecchin came under fire at the death for the Sammut ruling. That’s not to say he was wrong… if he did indeed call held he had no other option but to penalise the Panthers’ half.

And despite two refs and two touch judges no official was able to rule on the 14-man incident when it happened. Best & Fairest… 3 points – David Stagg (Bulldogs): The ’Dogs lock was phenomenal in making 53 tackles but was also heavily involved in attack; 2 points – Greg Eastwood (Bulldogs): Having not had time to even be fitted for his club tracksuit, Eastwood came off the bench to provide class touch after class touch to get the Bulldogs home; 1 point – Trent Waterhouse (Panthers): Provided a passionate performance for the home side which included two tries and some determined defence and hard-core attack.

Bulldogs 28 (B Kimmorley, D Stagg, J Idris, G Eastwood, B Roberts tries; H El Masri 4 goals) def Panthers 26 (T Waterhouse 2, P Aiton, B Tighe tries; M Gordon 5 goals) at CUA Stadium. Crowd: 16,846.

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