Panthers look to continue winning ways against woeful Bulldogs

Nathan Cleary in action against Souths. Photo: NRL Images.
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According to the bookies, you couldn’t find a more lopsided contest this weekend than Sunday night’s clash between Penrith and Canterbury at CommBank Stadium.

It’s a fair summation too – Penrith are four from four with no Premiership hangover in sight, while the Bulldogs have the worst attack in the competition and are coming off a 44-0 drubbing at the hands of Melbourne.

It’s not as if the Bulldogs didn’t have opportunities last weekend against the Storm. They had 52 per cent of possession, missed less tackles and found themselves at the right end of the field on more than enough occasions – they just can’t make it click at the moment and their frustration is obvious.

While Matt Burton is still finding his feet at five-eighth, Trent Barrett is clearly unsure what to do about his number 7 – switching between Jake Averillo and Brandon Wakeham over the first month of the competition, and now bringing Kyle Flanagan into the playmaking role for the first time this season. It’s been met with criticism this week but there’s no doubt the Flanagan / Burton partnership is the best halves combination the Bulldogs can field.

The Panthers have had a terrific start to the season. Photo: NRL Images.

Canterbury bought reasonably well in the off-season but players like Matt Dufty, Brent Naden, Josh Addo-Carr and Burton come from strong systems where they are cogs in a well performing wheel – it can’t be expected they’ll repeat similar form at a club struggling to make inroads. Perhaps in time, things will gel better.

As for Penrith, things are going along swimmingly – and some players, particularly Dylan Edwards and Isaah Yeo – are in better form than they were at any stage of the 2021 season, and that’s saying something.

Edwards, rarely in the conversation when it comes to the game’s best fullbacks, is making even his harshest critics stand up and take notice this season – leading the way across the competition in Run Metres, Kick Return Metres and All Runs and sitting third in Post Contact Metres behind Payne Haas and Addin Fonua-Blake.

Panthers fans were in full voice last weekend. Photo: NRL Images.

At no stage, apart from perhaps a 10 minute period when Souths gained the momentum after a dodgy penalty call in the south eastern corner, did Penrith look like getting beaten last Friday. They are such a comfortable watch at present that it’s scary, and while the thud down to earth is likely coming, it’s hard to see it being this Sunday night.

Nathan Cleary would have brushed the cobwebs aside during his first run for the year last weekend and I’d expect him to produce one of his trademark game management performances this Sunday now that he has some yards in his boots.

And this is the type of game that a Jarome Luai can really come to life – bamboozling a defence that conceded eight tries last weekend.

Nathan Cleary. Photo: NRL Images.

But there’s no doubt that Canterbury will come into this game with a bit of emotion behind them. With so many former Panthers involved in the contest, there’s no doubt they’ll be fired up – and Penrith simply have to be patient and not join them in the scrap early. Stick to the plan, kick well and the points will come.

Penrith should win comfortably.

Tip: Panthers by 24.

Penrith and Canterbury play on Sunday, April 10 at 6.15pm at CommBank Stadium.

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