A high-octane 80 minutes from Origin discard Josh Reynolds has led the Bulldogs to an impressive and entertaining if spiteful 24-12 win over an injury-hit Panthers side at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
That was despite spending 10 of those minutes in the sin bin for a professional foul, although he will consider himself a touch unlucky as it wasn't entirely clear if he made contact with an ankle-tap off the ball on Jamie Soward, who was attempting to chase through for a try – an act which led to one of several first-half flare-ups.
Another came after a tackle that left both Greg Eastwood and Josh Jackson on report for lifting Jamie Soward; Jackson is now sweating on the judiciary to find out if his Origin III hopes are in doubt.
The Bulldogs also have centre Dean Whare on report for a crusher tackle and suffered yet another injury concern with hooker James Segeyaro taken from the field with 20 minutes remaining with a likely medial ligament strain that may sideline him for 1-3 weeks.
Both sides entered the clash on 14 competition points; the win moves the Bulldogs into the eight and leaves the Panthers needing a likely seven wins from their final 11 games to have a chance of playing finals football in 2015.
In a lively but spiteful first half, a pretty entertaining game of footy occasionally broke out in between all the pushing and shoving, and it was the Bulldogs who had the better of it.
Josh Morris, backing up from a big effort in Origin II three nights earlier, got the ball rolling when he cashed in on some quick hands further infield to get two-on-one with Penrith fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak before putting Sam Perrett over for the first try of the night inside 10 minutes.
It became 12-0 to the home side less than five minutes later when prolific try-scoring winger Curtis Rona extended his lead at the top of the season try scorers list with his 16th four-pointer in 14 games and it was arguably the best of the lot.
Diving for the corner after receiving a long cut-out ball from Perrett, Rona grounded it millimetres inside the touch-in-goal line with his whole body suspended outside the field of play following a shove from opposing winger Dave Simmons.
A laser-like conversion from Moses Mbye made it 12-0 before the match began descending into pushing and shoving with both five-eighths in the thick of it.
First an Elijah Taylor line break, followed by a precision grubber from Bryce Cartwright, could have led to a Soward try but he was seemingly ankle tapped off the ball by Reynolds, who was sent to the bin for a professional foul after players from both sides ran in for some shirt grabbing.
With replays not exactly conclusively showing contact from Reynolds on Soward, who may have tripped, Bulldogs skipper Aiden Tolmen put forward an unsuccessful case for a reprieve.
A complete lack of organisation on last-tackle plays from Penrith – who seemed to be badly missing fullback Matt Moylan – prevented them from capitalising on their 13-on-12 advantage for the following 10 minutes but they scored straight after Reynolds' return as Cartwright again showed why he is one of the most promising ball-playing back-rowers in the game.
Following yet another completely disorganised last-tackle play Cartwright got the ball and chipped ahead for himself and managed to win the race to the ball to make it 12-6 at the break.
Perrett earned his second when he dived over from dummy half shortly after the resumption before an amazing passage of play went from a likely Penrith try to a Bulldogs six-pointer to all but end the contest.
When Penrith regathered a bomb with six to go after a Bulldogs touch they seemed certain to score before an intercept from second-game Bulldogs bench prop Shaun Lane, who made 30 metres and got the blue-and-whites into the attacking zone.
That set the scene for an amazing try from Reynolds who grubbered ahead from the midfield with nothing doing, got to the ball first and toed ahead again, before getting around Watene-Zelezniak to win the race to the ball and score to make it 24-6.
Any chance of a fightback was shut down by Bulldogs winger Corey Thompson, who came up with two fantastic try-savers on opposite number Waqa Blake, pushing his man into touch twice with the try-line begging.
Cartwright – easily Penrith's best on the night – scored a late consolation try after being put over between the sticks by Apisai Koroisau before a Peter Wallace chip and chase followed by a Cartwright grubber remarkably almost had the Panthers back within six points with three minutes to play, but Cartwright's kick beat David Simmons to the dead ball line and the Bulldogs were able to wind down the clock.
Canterbury Bulldogs 24 (Perrett 2, Rona, Reynolds tries; Mbye 4 goals) defeated Penrith Panthers 12 (Cartwright 2 tries; Soward 2 goals). Half time 12-6. Crowd 12,476. On report: Jackson, Eastwood, Whare.