Penrith Panthers overcome Canterbury Bulldogs despite lack of State of Origin firepower

Penrith have shrugged off their slew of Origin absentees to pull off a relatively comfortable win over the Bulldogs, winning 30-18 at Penrith Stadium.

Despite missing the likes of co-captains Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo as well as Jarome Luai, Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton and Liam Martin, Penrith had more than enough firepower to deal with a Bulldogs team that relied on moments of magic from two of New South Wales’ forgotten sons to keep the score close.

Each of Canterbury’s first two tries – one short and one long range – came via the boot of Matt Burton steering the ball to Josh Addo-Carr, while the former Panther added the Bulldogs’ third with a solo effort.

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It wasn’t enough, however, and Jaeman Salmon’s late try gave Penrith some breathing room as they cruised to the finish line.

The story of stand-in playmaker Kurt Falls had been doing the rounds all week – a former schoolboy partner of Cleary’s, he made his first grade debut tonight after plying his trade in Penrith’s lower grades for several years.

He couldn’t have asked for a much better start, as his kick from former Bulldog Chris Smith for the opener, before Penrith added three more first half tries through Dylan Edwards, Taylan May and Viliame Kikau.

Oddly, without all of that firepower, Penrith produced their highest-scoring first half of the season – but they only managed eight points after the restart.

“At the start of the second half, we just couldn’t build pressure with our last plays, which we’re normally really good at,” coach Ivan Cleary said afterwards – but said he was satisfied with the performance.

It was in this corresponding time of the season in 2021 when the Panthers’ undefeated season ended at the hands of the Wests Tigers – but they kept their nerve tonight.

“Everyone did their job. I thought some of the boys who are regulars in the team, they really probably learned from last year,” he said – singling out James Fisher-Harris, Viliame Kikau, Dylan Edwards and Moses Leota for praise.

“I think everyone just had a bit more determination this year to make sure that we did get it right,” Cleary said.

Dogs find a lifeline out of nowhere

The Bulldogs continue to struggle, even with a new coach – although their three games under interim coach Mick Potter have yielded their three best attacking performances of the year in terms of points scored.

Penrith will likely see all their Origin stars return next week when they don’t play until Sunday afternoon against Newcastle.

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