Premiers Penrith overcame the absence of six Origin stars to hold off a gutsy Bulldogs team at BlueBet Stadium on Friday night.
Sean O'Sullivan, Kurt Falls and Matt Eisenhuth took on the roles of halfback Nathan Cleary, five-eighth Jarome Luai and lock Isaah Yeo and played starring roles in the 30-18 win.
Strike forward Viliame Kikau, who will join the Bulldogs next season, fullback Dylan Edwards, prop James Fisher-Harris and hooker Api Koroisau led the way for the Panthers, whose left side attack was as potent as ever.
Former Penrith star Matt Burton and winger Josh Addo-Carr kept Canterbury in the game with some moments of brilliance and the last placed team dominated possession, while completing 39 of their 42 sets.
Addo-Carr reminded Blues coach Brad Fittler of his try scoring feats after finishing with a 39th career double - both of which were off the kicks from Burton, who scored Canterbury's other try.
However, the Panthers made them pay for each error as they maintained a four point lead on the Telstra Premiership ladder from the second-placed Storm and Cowboys.
Match: Panthers v Bulldogs
Round 13 -
Venue: BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
- Corey Allan's NRL return after being called in as a late replacement for Matt Dufty got off to a poor start when he was unable to take a difficult pass from Jake Averillo and the Panthers capitalised on the error.
- Former Bulldogs forward Chris Smith made his old team pay when he leapt to snatch a cross-field kick from rookie Panthers five-eighth Kurt Falls to open the scoring in just the fourth minute.
Former Dog Smith gets one for Penrith
- The Bulldogs defended three consecutive sets but they had no answer to the NRL's most potent left edge when Dylan Edwards started and finished a movement which involved Taylan May and Viliame Kikau.
- The Fijian second-rower sent Izack Tago racing down the sideline and Edwards backed up to extend Penrith's lead to 12-0 after just 14 minutes.
Tago puts the foot down, provides for Edwards
- Matt Burton got the Bulldogs back in the game with a long torpedo kick that Edwards spilled and in the set of six from the ensuing scrum win he grubbered for Josh Addo-Carr to pounce and score in the 20th minute.
Burton kicks, Addo-Carr scores
- Addo-Carr found himself in the clear soon after and linked with Averillo but an attempted return pass by the Bulldogs fullback failed to find its mark and the Panthers again made them pay.
- This time it was May who scored and he joined injured Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen as the NRL's equal leading tryscorer with a spectacular dive after taking a long Sean O'Sullivan pass to finish his 12th try of the season.
May flies for corner
- When Kikau crashed his way over the tryline in the 32nd minute, the signs were looking ominous for the Bulldogs and despite an impressive first half they trailed 22-6 at halftime.
- Again it was Burton's left boot that got Canterbury back into the game in the 50th minute after he kicked behind the defence from his own 20-metre zone and Addo-Carr won the race for the ball before sprinting 60 metres to score.
Addo-Carr in open space alert
- Burton then scored himself eight minutes later when he charged onto a pass from dummy half Jeremy Marshall-King near the Penrith tryline to reduce Canterbury's deficit to 22-18 midway through the second half.
- However, Canterbury's first error of the second half after an attempted Paul Vaughan offload went to ground proved costly and the Panthers hit back when Jaeman Salmon swooped onto an Api Koroisau grubber to score in the 64th minute.
Smart Koroisau kick finds Salmon
- A Kurt Falls penalty goal gave the premiers a 12-point buffer and they finished too strong, with Salmon and Tago having tries disallowed in the dying stages.
Play of the game
The Bulldogs may not have been able to spring an upset but Matt Burton kept them in the game midway through the first half with a spiralling 70-metre kick that Dylan Edwards spilled near his own line and Josh Addo-Carr scored from the ensuing scrum win.
Burton's brutal boot
What they said
"I just think everyone did their job. Some of the boys who are regulars in the team I think they learned from last years. All the other guys just did their thing so I thought we played well as a team. It's a six week period and sometimes we are going to have the boys and sometimes we won't. [Viliame Kikau] has put together a stretch of games that is easily the most consistent since he has been here. I think he is probably trying to make the most of the season. We are probably fortunate that we have some guys who know what to do; Matt Eisenhuth and Charlie Staines have played a lot for the NRL team the last two years, Sean O'Sullivan has played well every team he has played for us but we can't fit him in the team so it is nice for them to get an opportunity. If everyone is doing their job it is much easier for them to shine": Panthers coach Ivan Cleary.
Panthers: Round 13
"For me it is just a similar story to the past couple of weeks; poor discipline, particularly in yardage and decision making with the footy in crucial parts of the game was poor again tonight. Until we start learning how to control the footy and how to manage a game it is going to be very hard for us to win. That is not saying that we are that far away because we had them at 22-18 at one point. That is where we have got to be smarter and manage the game a bit better": Bulldogs captain Josh Jackson.
Bulldogs: Round 13
The Panthers travel to Newcastle next Sunday to take on the Knights, while the Bulldogs host the Eels in a western Sydney derby at Accor Stadium on the public holiday Monday.
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary will need to decide how many of his six NSW Blues stars back up after Wednesday night's Origin opener but the performance against the Bulldogs would give him confidence the Panthers can get by without them.
Canterbury coach Mick Potter would have been happy with the performance of Jake Averillo at fullback after his switch from centre to replace Matt Dufty and will be hoping to welcome back injured forwards Luke Thompson and Tevita Pangai jnr.
Halfback Kyle Flanagan was placed on report for a lifting tackle late in the game.