Fifty years ago, the Penrith Panthers lost their first ARL competition 18-16 to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at Belmore Oval. Last Thursday, the two teams met again for Penrith’s 50th anniversary at Pepper Stadium, for an electric match that set the tone and speed for this second week of football. With the Riff in the lead until the very last minute, it looked as if the Dogs were going to take home a loss after their spectacular opening in Round 1, but a last minute try from Moses Mbye and a post-siren conversion from young gun Kerrod Holland – playing here in his first NRL match – ensured that Canterbury-Bankstown came away with their second straight win in a row, a fairly impressive achievement given that they haven’t even had a home game yet.
While there were various moving pieces, the Dogs’ momentum was definitely enhanced by having David Klemmer back on board: he’s got the kind of hard man attitude and no-holds-barred aggression that Michael Ennis once brought to the team and that Josh Reynolds has also cultivated in a different kind of way. It’s the defence mechanism needed for a team that’s been so spurned over the last decade, with Klemmer’s presence on the field seeming to rouse the team as a whole, even if he’s out again after touching the ref. In fact, you couldn’t get a better example of how Canterbury-Bankstown are viewed in the game as a whole than the inconsistency between Klemmer’s ref contact and Trent Merrin’s ref contact in the same game. When Klemmer does it, it’s seen as aggro, but when Merrin does it it’s excused, and it’s exactly that perception of the Dogs that makes Klemmer such an important symbol.
At the same time, there was more to Canterbury-Bankstown than Klemmer’s presence. Putting in the final try, Moses Mbye produced probably his best game for the Dogs, as well as further proof that his halves combo with Josh Reynolds may work out better than anyone expected. Des has a way of making miracles happen like that, and so it wasn’t a surprise to see that even Will Hopoate is starting to come good at stand-in fullback, scoring a try at the 24th minute. While Reynolds’ contribution may not have been as marked as it was in Round 1 and the trials, it would still be a pity if Des managed to secure Luke Brooks before this particular pair have had a chance to shine. Then again, Des usually knows what he’s doing – perhaps it’s just my desire to see Brooks stick with Teddy and Moses that’s speaking there.
Of course, there was no doubt that the game belonged to Kerrod Holland, who put in about the best first-grade debut that anyone could hope for. While his conversion may have been media gold, however, as well as beautifully timed in terms of the match as a whole, it only played such a pivotal role thanks to the efforts of the team as a whole. That said, the second half of the game was fairly unimpressive, uninspired and unstructured with each team making a display of fairly bad sets, weird kicks and misplaced tackles, so there was something about the clean conviction of Holland’s kick that reassured the Dogs that their victory was just that little bit neater and tighter than it actually was.
For Panthers fans, it must have been a particularly bitter defeat. Scoring their last try at eleven minutes, they seemed to have it in the bag for much of the first half but were no match for the grinding Bulldogs attack that was unveiled in the last thirty minutes or so. One thing to come out of it all for the Panthers, though, is that Jamie Soward is still by far and away the best half at Penrith, blessed with a kicking and attacking game that marks him as one of the most talented mature players in the game at large. On Thursday night, it felt as if he was in form for the first time this season, guiding Penrith’s young guns into a rousing display for their 50th anniversary that was unlucky as much as unstructured. Here’s hoping that Penrith manage to get more from their home ground when they take on the Broncos this Saturday.