Friends become foes as Panthers, Bulldogs meet in Friday showdown

Nathan Cleary returns for Penrith. Photo: NRL Photos.
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In a round that features such highlight games as Melbourne versus Cronulla and St George-Illawarra up against South Sydney, it is this twilight fixture at the foot of the Mountains that provides the most intrigue for many.

Despite being long outsiders in this match, Canterbury come into this 6pm game against Penrith sitting in eighth spot on the ladder, having won four and lost four matches so far this season.

Any suggestion they will be easybeats against Penrith is laughable; especially when you consider the emotion involved.

Stephen Crichton returns to Penrith for the first time since switching clubs in the off-season, as does Jaeman Salmon. Throw in the Viliame Kikau, Matt Burton and Cameron Ciraldo factors and what you have here is two sides that will be desperate to beat the other on a whole different level to just scoring two competition points.

The Panthers muscle up in defence. Photo: NRL Photos.

It’s for that reason I’m expecting a high quality game of footy on Friday night, and I expect Canterbury to throw absolutely everything at Penrith.

The Bulldogs did enough to beat the Tigers last Saturday but the game never really reached any spectacular heights. And coach Ciraldo would surely be concerned that his side couldn’t ice the game when the Tigers had two players in the sin bin late in the second half.

Meantime, Penrith didn’t really get out of second gear against the Rabbitohs, coming from 12-0 down early to get the job done with relative ease, 42-12. Nobody should have been surprised that Souths came out of the blocks hard after an emotional week, so there’s not much to take from the early conceding of points.

There is no question the Bulldogs will utilise their dangerous left-side attack against Penrith, hoping Kikau can run riot at his old stomping ground.

Penrith celebrate a try against Souths. Photo: NRL Photos.

But for Canterbury to win this one, it’ll be their improved defence that makes all the difference. The Bulldogs haven’t conceded more than 26 points once this season. At the same point of last season, they’d already done that on four occasions. It shows how far they’ve come under Ciraldo, and they’ve almost snuck up on us this year as a genuine top eight contender.

Sure, they lack a certain element of quality that the better teams boast, but through a tougher defence and a bit if spirit, Ciraldo has managed to get this Canterbury side believing this year.

Beating Penrith though takes going to a totally different level. The Panthers showed against the Cowboys a fortnight ago that they still boast that Finals-like defence when it is needed, and that was a real warning siren to the competition.

The return of Nathan Cleary also emerges as a danger for the Bulldogs. After sitting out the Rabbitohs game last weekend, he’s had a decent recovery after his first game back up in Townsville and will be ready to deliver in this one. It’s often his second game back from injury or suspension where he has the most impact, so don’t be surprised to see him heavily involved in this one – I’m even tipping him to get over the stripe for a try.

Nathan Cleary. Photo: Megan Dunn.

In the end, Penrith simply have too much quality across the park to drop the points here.

But I’d be absolutely stunned if it’s a blowout, at least for the first 60 minutes. I’m expecting the Dogs to go with Penrith, but Cleary’s men to be too strong once things get serious in the last 20.

Tip: Panthers by 16.

Penrith play Canterbury at 6.00pm on Friday, May 10 at BlueBet Stadium. The game is live on Fox League and Kayo.

Troy Dodds

Troy Dodds is the Weekender's Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia's leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.

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