By Stewart Moses at Pepper Stadium
Penrith kicked off their title defence with a hard-earned victory over a fast-finishing Canterbury team that refused to give in despite the hot conditions.
The win was the Panthers’ third in a row over the Bulldogs since the club took full control of their VB NSW Cup team but it may have come at a price with fullback Kieran Moss forced off the field with what appeared to be a serious foot injury.
Panthers coach Garth Brennan’s decision to shift prop Ben Murdoch–Masila to the back row paid off in just the ninth minute, with the former Tiger storming through the Bulldogs’ left edge on a 50-metre run before sending the ball back inside to fullback Kieran Moss to score out wide.
The Panthers extended their lead in the 17th minute when former Souths hooker Api Koroisau burrowed his way over from dummy-half and with Will Smith’s conversion, Penrith led 10-0.
The Bulldogs hit back four minutes later with a try to Corey Thompson after hooker Damien Cook broke through the Panthers’ middle defence from dummy half before drawing Moss and finding his fullback backing up on the inside to score adjacent to the post.
Andy Patmore’s men began to dominate possession and it wasn’t long before they were are able to capitalise when back-rower Adam Elliott stormed onto a great pass from half Moses Mbye to run a great line to score beside the posts. With Chase Stanley’s second conversion from as many attempts, the Bulldogs suddenly found themselves leading Penrith 12-10.
Canterbury looked likely to take their lead into half-time but Penrith through Murdoch-Masila had other ideas, with the back-rower providing a fantastic offload to send Waqa Blake deep into Bulldogs territory. In the ensuing play, Koroisau’s cross-field kick found debutant Christian Crichton, whose momentum looked set to take him into touch only to somehow flick the ball back inside to Smith with the centre doing the rest to dive over out wide to give the Panthers a 14-12 half-time lead.
A Bulldogs error from the second half kick-off was the catalyst for Penrith’s back-to-back tries. Isaac John crashed through some poor Bulldogs goal-line defence to score out wide, converted by halves partner, Adrian Davis who took over the goal-kicking responsibilities from Smith. From the next set the Panthers worked play downfield before a Waqa Blake grubber kick 25 metres out from the tryline found Murdoch-Masila on the inside to regather and score through brute force. Davis again kicked a simple goal to give Penrith their biggest lead 26-12 with over half an hour left in the match.
The Panthers took the foot off the pedal and midway through the half some quick thinking from the dummy half, Cook to cross kick from his own 40m into vacant space allowed winger Tyrone Phillips to beat Crichton to the ball and score in the right corner. With seven minutes remaining the Bulldogs set-up a grandstand finish scoring a try through Chase Stanley after a 40-20 kick gave them great field position.
The final minutes saw the Bulldogs break the line on numerous occasions only to be denied by some desperate line defence by the Panthers that in the end allowed the defending premiers to hold on and earn two valuable competition points.
Murdoch-Masila was the obvious standout performer for the Panthers having created headaches for the Bulldogs left edge defence while Api Koroisau showed why he was pivotal part of Souths’ premiership success. For the Bulldogs, Damien Cook was their best, supported by Moses Mbye and Corey Thompson, who both showed why they are highly regarded players.
This week will see Penrith travel to Bathurst to take on North Sydney at Carrington Park, while Canterbury are at home to Mounties.
Penrith 26 (K Moss, A Koroisau, W Smith, I John, B Murdoch-Masila tries; A Davis 2, W Smith goals) def Canterbury 20 (C Thompson, A Elliott, T Phillips, C Stanley tries; C Stanley 2 goals)