By Stewart Moses
The Penrith Panthers have come away from the Belmore Sports Ground with a hard-fought win over the Bulldogs 35-28 to win three games in a row and seven of their last eight games.
A sublime performance from current Holden Cup Player of the Year, Bryce Cartwright, was the ultimate difference between the two sides, having a hand in five of the six tries scored by the Panthers and scoring 15 points from a try, five goals and a field goal.
The Panthers went into this game losing both Will Smith (injury) and Sam Anderson (NRL) replaced by Waqa Blake and Ryan Simpkins, allowing Garth Brennan to move Cartwright into the halves. The tactical reshuffle by the Panthers coach paid immediate dividends with Cartwright putting the kick in behind the Bulldogs defensive line allowing left centre Kevin Naiqama to win the race to the loose ball just before it was about to roll over the dead-ball line. Cartwright’s conversion from near the sideline gave the Panthers a dream 6-0 lead after 5 minutes.
A 50m line break through the middle by Eto Nabuli was the catalyst for Penrith’s next try in the 12th minute as the ball shifted quickly left before Bryce Cartwright put Naiqama in from close range and with a second conversion from as many attempts from out wide, gave Penrith a 12-0 lead.
That lead soon extended to 16 when Cartwright and Naiqama again combined this time with a brilliant piece of play that saw Luke Capewell’s chip kick from inside his own half regathered by Cartwright who had the presence of mind to immediately kick ahead before Naiqama who steamed through to take possession from Tyrone Phillips’ grasp and score next to the posts. Cartwright somehow hit the posts from close range but the Panthers were in command leading 16-0.
The Panthers lost their way over the next ten minutes due largely to a lack of discipline which invited the Bulldogs back into the game through several repeat sets. They opened their account in the 25th minute when a Lachlan Burr short pass put Reni Maitua into a yawning gap close to the line.
The deficit was reduced further in the 32nd minute when a Jaline Graham short ball close to the line found Burr storming over and with Krisnan Inu’s conversion the Bulldogs suddenly only trailed 16-12.
Just as the Bulldogs were gaining momentum, a knock on soon after the kick off gave the Panthers possession deep inside the Bulldogs half. A few plays after the scrum win, Eto Nabuli scored in the left corner after Liam Ayoub, Cartwright and Naiqama were instrumental in the lead up as play swept from one side of the field to the other. Another successful conversion from the sideline by Cartwright saw Penrith head into halftime leading 22-12.
The Panthers soon increased the lead back to 16 points when in the 54th minute Bryce Cartwright feigned to put the bomb up from 30m out instead putting in a chip kick that was brilliantly regathered again from Tyrone Phillips’ grasp by Cartwright to score a brilliant individual try.
The Bulldogs to their credit never gave up and were rewarded with a try midway through the second half when a David Minute offload put Inu on a diagonal line from 40m out before finding Corey Thompson backing up on his inside to score under the posts.
Penrith once again extended the lead back to 16 when Ben Murdoch-Masila showed incredible strength for the second week in a row scoring from close range taking two defenders across the line with him in the process.
The last ten minutes saw the Bulldogs set up a grandstand finish after quick tries to David Minute and a second try to Corey Thompson.
Penrith withstood the late charge from the Bulldogs in the closing minutes and sealed the win with a Bryce Cartwright field goal with the last play of the game to give the Panthers a 35-28 win.
This weekend the Panthers head to Brooky on Saturday to take on the Sea Eagles while the Bulldogs will tackle Mounties at Aubrey Keech.
Penrith Panthers 35 (K Naiqama 3, E Nabuli, B Murdoch Masila, B Cartwright tries; B Cartwright 5 goals; B Cartwright field goal) def. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 28 (C Thompson 2, L Burr, R Maitua, D Minute tries; K Inu 4 goals) at Belmore Sports Ground.