Another controlled performance from James Maloney has guided Penrith to a 22-14 victory over the Canterbury Bulldogs at Panthers Stadium on Friday night in a fiery State of Origin audition under the watchful eye of NSW coach Brad Fittler.
The Panthers were forced to come from behind to post their sixth win of the season after trailing 12-2 midway through the first half. Fullback Dylan Edwards had also left the field with a dislocated shoulder.
Canterbury started well but crumbled under fatigue with the game on the line as Maloney's game control came to the fore.
It was a night that focused around a fierce battle in the forward pack with incumbent Blues props Aaron Woods and David Klemmer out to prove a point to against hopefuls Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Trent Merrin in the Panthers line-up.
Adding more intrigue to the clash, Fittler had the best seat in the house watching on from the sidelines.
But it was Woods who had a second half to forget, with three errors in seven minutes helping the Panthers extend their lead to eight points.
Tensions boiled over four minutes before fulltime, with Klemmer later sent to the sin-bin for sparking a second heated battle.
Match: Panthers v Bulldogs
Round 8 -
Venue: Panthers Stadium, Penrith
Earlier, Penrith looked threatening with Edwards and Maloney creating holes through the middle until Edwards was dragged down by heavy Bulldogs defence led by Woods to leave the field in the 14th minute.
The Bulldogs built confidence in attack on the back of a forced Panther reshuffle which saw Dallin Watene-Zelezniak shift to fullback, and a trick-play down the right edge caught Maloney out in defence with Mbye setting up Marcelo Montoya in the corner for a 6-2 lead.
Canterbury continued to raid the left-edge defence of the Panthers with Kieran Foran linking with Will Hopoate for the side's second in the 24th minute, making it 12-2 to the Bulldogs.
Penrith's confidence was shot with coach Anthony Griffin forced to shift Isaah Yeo into the centres to try and stop the flow of points out wide.
A strong charge from Campbell-Gillard up the middle off set up Penrith's opening try in the 38th minute with Sione Katoa delivering a long pass to provide enough space for Watene-Zelezniak to link with Corey Harawira-Naera on the edge.
Five minutes into the second half the Panthers were in again after a short kick from Maloney bounced back into the hands of Viliame Kikau, who kept the ball alive to Tyrone Peachey who found a rampaging Moses Leota to plant the ball down.
From there Maloney took control and a try to Yeo in the 66th minute sent Penrith out to 20-14. A penalty goal eight minutes from time put the game out of reach for the Bulldogs, who again struggled in attack in the second half after a promising opening.
Dean Pay's men are averaging just 14 points per game after eight rounds and next Thursday face a daunting away trip to Brisbane.
Penrith have no such issues piling on points, and head to Bathurst next Friday to face the North Queensland Cowboys full of confidence despite a mammoth injury toll.