PANTHERS 14 BULLDOGS 22
Michael Gordon of the Panthers injures his leg as he is tackled. Photo: Getty Images
The Panthers dominated the first half but, after leading 12-0 through tries to Travis Burns and Michael Jennings, they held only a converted try lead, after Steve Turner pounced on a wayward pass from Luke Lewis, leading to a try to Josh Reynolds, closing in on the break. It was 12-12 six minutes into the second period when Ben Barba found space, before a Penrith penalty restored the lead. The Bulldogs had a try disallowed with 11 minutes remaining after Frank Pritchard's big hit on David Simmons was ruled illegal, but Josh Morris crossed three minutes later to snatch the lead, converted from the sideline by Turner. The Bulldogs sealed it in the dying minutes via Bryson Goodwin. ''We knew that if we went back out there and got into a little bit of the set-to-set grind with them, we could compete with this Penrith side - and that's what we proceeded to do,'' coach Des Hasler said.
Bulldogs streak home to claim win
Brett Morris of the Bulldogs dives over to score a try. Photo: Getty Images
Michael Gordon was returning from a knee reconstruction and was looking a million dollars until, about 25 minutes in, he rolled awkwardly in a tackle by Greg Eastwood and seemed to twist his ankle. He was gone straight away. He walked off the field and up the tunnel. News filtered out at half-time that the damage was a suspected fractured fibula. ''I don't think Mick's too good,'' coach Ivan Cleary said. ''I think it's going to be a long-termer.'' About 20 minutes after the press conference, X-rays confirmed Cleary's worst fears.
WHAT THE GAME TOLD US ABOUT THE BULLDOGS
The Bulldogs gave away too much possession early on, mostly through poor discipline. ''We were probably guilty of putting ourselves in the position that we were in at half-time,'' Hasler said. ''We made too many silly errors and gave away too much ball.'' However, once they settled and picked up in defence, led by prop James Graham with 43 tackles, they showed that their trump cards, such as the pace of Barba and Morris, can cause havoc.
WHAT THE BULLDOGS SAID
''[Chief executive Todd Greenberg's] since told us that the children that have been left behind [after the death of Senior Constable David Rixon at Tamworth] are avid Bulldogs supporters. The players wanted me to, on behalf of the club, pass on their sincerest condolences and that this win was for them,'' Hasler said.
WHAT THE GAME TOLD US ABOUT THE PANTHERS
The Panthers found it hard to score points last season and, though the points hardly flowed last night, they showed positive glimpses in attack. Intensity was their best asset, especially in the first half, even if their execution wasn't. A sign of their confidence from a good pre-season came with Jennings's try, which came from a penalty that could have earned them an easy two points. Instead, they backed themselves to go for a try.
WHAT THE PANTHERS SAID
''We've got a bit of carnage come out of it, injury-wise. It's a tough first night. But it's a long year and I thought the boys certainly showed a lot of courage and I'm very confident we'll continue to get better,'' Cleary said.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Penrith's depth will be tested early this season. In addition to Gordon's injury, Cleary said Blake Austin was lost early on to a ''very bad cork'' and ''Dave Simmons is not in a real good way either'' after Pritchard's hit. They are away to the Roosters next Sunday.
The Bulldogs play the Dragons next Saturday at ANZ Stadium. They got away with poor handling and, at times, poor discipline last night (admittedly in trying conditions), but it's fair to say the Dragons will be less forgiving than the Panthers. ''Far too many errors for our liking, so we'll need to fix that,'' Hasler said.
CANTERBURY 22 (B Barba B Goodwin J Morris J Reynolds tries S Turner 3 goals) bt PENRITH 14 (T Burns M Jennings tries M Gordon 2 L Walsh goals) at Centrebet Stadium. Referee: Jason Robinson, Phil Haines. Crowd: 9,385.