Despite missing most of their big guns the Panthers almost pulled off the upset of the year, dominating the table-topping Bulldogs deep into the first half before the home side shook off its funk and did only what was required to gain the two competition points.
Without Petero Civoniceva (Qld Origin) as well as Luke Lewis, Michael Jennings and Lachlan Coote (injury) the Penrith side displayed commitment and urgency from the outset. When they raced to a 6-0 lead courtesy of a Gavin Cooper try after just six minutes fans knew they had a contest.
Despite only Ben Hannant (Qld Origin) missing from their contingent the Bulldogs looked flat and uninspired. But a moment of brilliance from halfback Brett Kimmorley in the 29th minute, which saw winger Bryson Goodwin score, caught the opposition unawares and got the blue-and-whites back in the game.
Still, coach Matthew Elliott must have fancied his side’s chances with a 6-all scoreline at halftime not reflecting the Panthers’ dominance (55 per cent possession).
But then the heavens conspired against the Panthers, steady drizzle turning the surface into a skating rink and stunting the Panthers’ free-flowing game.
The Game Swung When… Brett Kimmorley dummied at the line, bamboozling Panther interchange Matthew Bell to sail through untouched. The no.7 offloaded to Bryson Goodwin who scooted over adjacent to the posts. That made it 6-all with 10 minutes before halftime.
In the 54th minute, with the Bulldogs leading 12-6 after a wonderful Hazem El Masri try (see HTBSTBB below), Panther Joseph Paulo hit Bulldog benchman Daniel Holdsworth high in front of the posts; captain Andrew Ryan threw his goalkicker the ball and the successful penalty gave them breathing space on a slogging night.
Who Was Hot… Kimmorley’s enthusiasm snapped the home side out of serious complacency. And while most players on the park were making fundamental errors Kimmorley treasured the ball like an heirloom and made every touch count.
Former Rabbitoh Yileen Gordon was a standout off the bench, running hard and straight at every opportunity (92 metres from 7 hit-ups in just 17 minutes) – something his team-mates and opposition did not cherish doing.
El Masri, who it must be said isn’t in the mould of the modern-day winger, was a valuable contributor with two tries and three goals.
Fellow flanker Goodwin continued his fairytale rise in the NRL, taking his try tally to 12 to jointly lead the category.
For the Panthers Jarrod Sammut didn’t flinch taking on his bigger opponents with a series of gutsy charges (14 runs, 145 metres), while halfback Luke Walsh – looking more and more like NSW Origin halfback Peter Wallace every week; is this a ploy to deceive oppositions? – was the dominant force for the opening 30 minutes.
Fill-in captain Trent Waterhouse (14 tackles, 19 hit-ups) tried hard.
Who Was Not… Panthers back-rower Frank Pritchard, despite scoring a try when brushing through feeble grabs from Daniel Holdsworth and Michael Hodgson, was still an underperformer. He made 129 metres but isn’t showing enough urgency. He’s capable of much more than just one star moment a game.
Hodgson put his side under pressure on occasion, as did captain Ryan with two handling errors in the first 11 minutes.
Also, Daniel Holdsworth dropped the ball and missed vital tackles.
The Panthers let themselves down with some poor handling after laying a good platform, with Nathan Smith a prime culprit.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Gavin Cooper struggled against the might of a Jamal Idris wrestle-tackle to plant the ball on the try line – and was then hoicked backwards a full five metres by the teen Bulldog.
At 14-6 in the 57th minute the Panthers opted to go for a penalty goal just off centre and 30 metres out when deep on the attack. It was an interesting call which would have bridged the difference to a converted try – except Luke Walsh pushed the attempt right. It was like taking a 3-iron for safety on a tight par-4 and then splaying the ball out-of-bounds.
Hazem El Masri showed brilliant skill to field a Ben Roberts cross-kick on the first bounce and ground the ball 30cm short of the dead-ball line. The winger had no margin for error and had to complete the grounding in the one sweeping motion. Great stuff.
Vision of Jamal Idris’ left elbow hyper-extending as he fended off the opposition was sickening.
What else? Oh, the Bulldogs wore pink socks, a week after the Women In League Round. They did so because they missed the chance to do so last week.
Injuries… Jamal Idris – elbow (possibly four weeks);
Refs Watch… Nothing contentious from Gavin Badger and Matt Cecchin.
Badger had to settle the troops down after a scrum threatened to erupt following a spat between hookers Paul Aiton and – who else? – Michael Ennis on the stroke of halftime.
Cecchin placed Michael Hodgson on report for a high shot on Jarrod Sammut; he escaped a charge.
NRL.com Best & Fairest…
3 points – Brett Kimmorley (Bulldogs): Continued his stellar form. Ran selectively for 12 metres a time and made 31 tackles; 2 points – David Stagg (Bulldogs): Got through a mountain of defence (55 tackles) on a night when it counted; 1 point – Yileen Gordon (Bulldogs): Added a new dimension to the Bulldogs’ attack when he was injected.
Bulldogs 19 (H El Masri 2, B Goodwin tries; El Masri 3 gols, Kimmorley field goal) def Panthers 12 (G Cooper, F Pritchard tries; L Walsh 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 13,992.