Panthers beat Bulldogs in Belmore trial
Panthers coach Anthony Griffin will head into the 2017 Telstra Premiership season with enviable selection headaches after his young brigade once again staked their claims for first-grade spots with a dominant 20-10 pre-season win over the Bulldogs.
Five-eighth Te Maire Martin showed no signs of the shoulder injury that cut short his rookie season as he laid on a try and looked dangerous every time he ran the ball.
Junior Kangaroo Dylan Edwards continued his impressive pre-season form at fullback with a number of classy touches in the No.1 jersey and must be one of the favourites to replace the injured Josh Mansour on the wing.
Panthers fans would have breathed a sigh of relief after Dean Whare made a successful return from the knee injury that prematurely ended his 2016 campaign, but the rep centre will face stiff competition from Waqa Blake who opened the scoring at Belmore Sportsground on Saturday night.
It was a different story for the Bulldogs whose attacking problems continued against Penrith's youngsters.
Star forwards James Graham, Aiden Tolman, David Klemmer and Josh Jackson led from the front in sweltering conditions – 36 degrees to be precise – but their execution on the fringes wasn't crisp enough with the final pass often going to ground or into touch.
Saturday night's result was a continuation of the form shown by both sides in Auckland last week, although pre-season form should often be taken with a grain of salt.
Following on from his stellar showing at the Nines, Edwards did his first-grade ambitions no harm with a nifty in-and-away to set up Blake for a try just three minutes into the contest.
Uncharacteristic errors from Will Hopoate and Brett Morris while attempting to defuse kicks gifted Penrith plenty of opportunities to extend their lead, and the Bulldogs were eventually punished when Martin dragged in the defence with a double bump to send Corey Harawira-Naera over just before the quarter-time break.
The home side should have narrowed the deficit midway through the second quarter after Brad Abbey poked his nose through the line and then produced a glorious flick pass to Tyrone Phillips who spilled the ball a metre short of the line.
They wouldn't be denied five minutes later as a powerful charge and subsequent offload from Sam Kasiano put Danny Fualalo over under the posts to make it a four-point game.
The Bulldogs went agonisingly close to levelling the scores through Marcelo Montoya, but the winger had his effort rubbed out by the referees for an incorrect grounding.
It would prove to be a crucial miss as back-up hooker Sione Katoa exploited a retreating defence to catch everyone unawares and extend Penrith's advantage five minutes into the second half.
The good times kept rolling for the Panthers when Zach Dockar-Clay split the Bulldogs defence before timing his pass to perfection to put new recruit Mason Cerruto under the posts before Lachlan Lewis pegged one back at the death.
Panthers 20 (Waqa Blake, Corey Harawira-Naera, Sione Katoa, Mason Cerruto tries; Darren Nicholls, Zach Dockar-Clay 1 goal) def. Bulldogs 10 (Danny Fualalo, Lachlan Lewis try; Josh Reynolds 1 goal) at Belmore Sportsground. Half-time: 10-6 Panthers.