Panthers down Dogs, prime for premiership

Brian To'o scores the first of Penrith's eight tries in their 42-0 NRL hammering of the Bulldogs.
Brian To'o scores the first of Penrith's eight tries in their 42-0 NRL hammering of the Bulldogs.

Penrith tuned up for their best tilt at a premiership since 2003 with a final-round NRL mauling of Canterbury at ANZ Stadium.

The Panthers made it 15 wins on the fly, putting the finishing touches on a sublime regular season with a 42-0 victory.

The clash was marred by a 15th-minute incident involving Bulldogs prop Luke Thompson, who was put on report for an alleged eye gouge on Penrith opposite James Tamou.

Tamou seemed non-plussed by the incident.

"There was not much in it," he said after the match. "I hope nothing comes of it."

Already assured the minor premiership, and seemingly with little to play for, the Panthers rested Dylan Edwards, Viliame Kikau and Stephen Crichton for the clash.

They started the match accordingly.

But after a sleepy first half-hour, where they were lucky to be up 4-0 through Brian To'o, the Panthers turned on the attack to savage the opposition with a three-try burst in eight minutes before the break.

A neat kick by Jerome Luai got the ball rolling for the Panthers as second rower Kurt Capewell muscled over to make it 10-0 in the 31st minute.

Classy five-eighth Luai was pulling the strings just five minutes later when he pierced two defenders before linking up with Brent Naden on the inside for 14-0.

And, after Naden turned provider with a banana kick for Capewell to get his double, the irresistible Panthers found themselves with the match in hand at 22-0 at halftime.

The rot continued after the break as Naden scored his second and the Panthers laid on further tries for Tamou, Josh Mansour and Matt Burton.

They also kept their tryline - and record as the competition's best defensive team - intact.

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said his players would take some time to celebrate the achievements after a regular season where they logged 18 wins, one loss and a draw.

He insisted he would not be dwelling on the suggestion that a comparative lack of major finals experience at the club in recent years would work against them.

"We can't do anything about our experience winning competitions," he said.

"We've got a bunch of guys that have played semis, four guys that have won grand finals - we've got a bunch of kids here that seem to think they can win anything."

It was a disappointing finale in a forgettable season for the Bulldogs, who the previous week had shown plenty of spirit in an upset win over finals-bound South Sydney.

That victory effectively helped them to avoid the wooden spoon, the 'Dogs finishing on just three wins with Brisbane but maintaining a superior for and against.

Interim Bulldogs coach Steve Georgallis lamented the loss of four players in the lead up to the match, including departing stalwart Aiden Tolman who injured his calf in the warm-up.

"It was one of those days where you could see it was first against 15th," said Georgallis, who will be replaced by Trent Barrett for next season.

Australian Associated Press