A severely-depleted Canterbury Bulldogs have proved too strong for a near full-strength Penrith Panthers line-up in Saturday night's trial at Belmore Sportsground.
The Bulldogs ran out five-tries-to-two winners against a Penrith side that looked far sharper than their less experienced counterparts for the opening 20 minutes before falling away badly. Errors and penalties plagued the Panthers over the final 60 minutes of the match.
Clever kicking from James Maloney and Nathan Cleary punctuated the opening exchanges but Canterbury's inexperienced squad stuck to their task and produced very few mistakes, while rookie halves Josh Cleeland and Lachlan Lewis both added some spark in attack.
First points were supplied by Panthers prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard when he charged onto a Cleary short ball and it should have been 12-0 shortly after (and a second try assist to Cleary) but Tyrone Peachey fluffed the grounding after a perfect grubber. There was very little good news for the Panthers from about that point on.
Some slick ball-work from 21-year-old Lewis – the nephew of Immortal Wally Lewis – helped create two tries to send the Dogs to the break up 10-6.
First, a nice pass put Papua New Guinea international Rhyse Martin through a gap in the Panthers' left edge defence before a loose pass from Lewis in the same channel was scooped up by Josh Cleeland on the fly to put winger Tom Carr over in the right corner.
Remarkably, Penrith coach Anthony Griffin put his starting 13 through the whole first 40 minutes without a single interchange as even the big men were forced to work through the hot and humid conditions.
Players like Waqa Blake, Corey Harawira-Naera and Sam McKendry joined the fray after half time but it did little to repair Penrith's sloppy execution as they spent most of the next 20 minutes in their own half.
Hooker Nu Brown crashed over from dummy half to extend the score to 16-6 before a Penrith error from their own scrum feed allowed young Dogs winger Josh Bergamin to race away into the corner. Bergamin made it a quick double when he swooped on a Kerrod Holland grubber to make it 24-6 with 10 minutes remaining.
A late consolation try to young winger Christian Crichton – one of Penrith's best all night with plenty of aggressive charges coming in off his wing – made the final score 24-10.
Soward's Say: Panthers in 2018