The Panthers outscored the Bulldogs 32-12 with a masterclass of their back five, while Matt Dufty produced arguably the worst game of his career.
A third halfback change in five rounds did not change the fortunes of Trent Barrett and his Bulldogs, as Penrith continued a dominating run of humiliations over Canterbury on Sunday night.
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The Panthers won 32-12 to take the score to 132 points against 16 in their last four meetings against the blues and whites, including three coached by Trent Barrett.
Far from Kyle Flanagan’s fault, it was other Bulldogs who disappeared, namely Matt Dufty at fullback.
“Matt Dufty at the back, he had a point, two yards gained and two errors. Unacceptable,” Fox League’s Corey Parker quipped at the 26-year-old former Dragon at halftime, and it didn’t go away. is not much improved.
By contrast, the underpressure that Flanagan put on a headline-grabbing week seemed to provide some direction inside the Opposition 20 with “nice touches” as described by Mick Ennis and held firm in defense .
The Bulldogs were at least able to score a few points at CommBank Stadium after Melbourne’s 44-0 demolition last Sunday, but Penrith’s fifth straight win to start 2022 only added pressure on an already heavily scrutinized Barrett, the Canterbury mentor publicly defending weekday selection.
Penrith became the first team since Melbourne in 2012-13 to start with five straight wins.
Here are the main takeaways from the game.
DUFTY DISAPPEARS IN ABSOLUTE SHOCKER
Matt Dufty was billed as one of the game breakers to start the Bulldogs’ offense, but he had the worst performance of his career against the Panthers.
Dufty made four errors and struggled to get involved with just 41 yards running on five carries in a lackluster display for the Bulldogs.
Corey Parker blamed Dufty for not showing energy and dedication given his key position for the Bulldogs.
“What we’ve seen from the Bulldogs, you have to have your best players playing well,” Parker said.
“Matt Dufty at the back had a point and two yards gained and two errors at halftime. Unacceptable.
“There were a few times he missed his assignments in that middle third. One was from Josh Jackson.
“He must find something.
“He hasn’t been involved at all and he plays at the back.
“He has an opportunity every set to get his hands on the ball and he didn’t.
“They need their best players to get involved and he certainly hasn’t.
“It was unacceptable.”
Cooper Cronk noted the piece involving Bulldogs skipper Josh Jackson that summed up Dufty’s night of horror.
“There was a play when Josh Jackson wanted to put him inside and he was there and he gave up on his mission,” Cronk said.
“There’s no doubt the coaching staff is telling Dufty to get involved because he’s running out of points.
“Dufty is the only player on their team who can override or put someone else in place. They need more involvement from Dufty.
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FLANAGAN IMPRESSES IN FIERY CLASH WITH LUAI
He may not have led his team to victory, but there was a lot to love about Kyle Flanagan’s freshman return, including his competitive fight with the Panthers, five-eighth Jarome Luai.
All the talk this week has been about Flanagan’s return to the side after he fell out of favor with Trent Barrett after leaving the Roosters last season.
Flanagan rose to Luai’s challenge and showed great skill and combat in his return match.
Michael Ennis and Warren Smith were impressed with Flanagan’s aggressive approach against the Panthers.
“Flanagan was impressive in his NRL debut,” Smith said.
“He had some really nice touches with the footy,” Ennis said.
“He crossed the field for the try of Tevita Pangai Jr.
“He also had a wonderful defense, keeping his gloves in that department.”
Corey Parker praised Flanagan for not letting the pressure get to him against the best team in the competition.
“Nice little play from Kyle Flanagan that’s been in the headlines all week,” Parker said.
“He produced a nice kick for Tevita Pangai to score.”
However, it was the ongoing battle between Flanagan and Luai that caught the attention of Lara Pitt and Cooper Cronk.
“Luai gave it to Kyle Flanagan who we know made headlines,” Pitt said.
“But Kyle can take some confidence because he set up the only try for the Bulldogs in the first half.”
“I love the back and forth between Luai and Flanagan,” Cronk said.
“It was Luai who entered him first with that first try.
“Then Flanagan returned the serve with a good kick and attempted an assist.
“He also hit Luai in a tackle that dislodged the ball.
“I love the game within a game with those two.
“Obviously the scoreboard favors Luai, but these two get into it and I like it.”
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PANTHERS BACK FIVE SIZZLES IN MASTERCLASS
The Panthers may have lost Paul Momirovski to the Roosters and Brian To’o through injury, but in an ominous warning to the competition they still have arguably the five most dangerous fullbacks in the NRL.
Taylan May is proving to be a carbon copy of Origin To’o winger, while Stephen Crichton and Izack Tago make a brilliant center partnership.
Michael Ennis praised May after he was set up by a superb pass from Jarome Luai to set the tone for the night.
“My God look at the pass here from Jarome Luai,” Ennis said.
“That’s great. Jarome Luai in a split second just sees May unmarked.
“May does a great job and comes back inside Burns, puts the ball in his left hand and runs the ball down.
“It’s a great job from Taylan May. Six tries now in three games.
“May was a great month. He’s proving to be a real handful on that left side.
Warren Smith thinks May’s first-year transition was so smooth the Panthers barely missed To’o.
“It’s remarkable how he just stepped in and replaced Brian To’o like he was channeling Brian To’o himself,” Smith said.
“To’o won’t be back until Round 10, so it’s another month of football for Taylan May.
“As for carrying the ball, he can absorb contact.
“May slotted in beautifully on that left wing.”
Cooper Cronk thinks the Panthers have arguably the five most formidable backs in the competition.
“The Panthers are super awesome,” Cronk said.
“I really like what the back three are doing, especially on the left side.
“Edwards, May and Tago dominate, whether it’s with their defense and line speed or their aggressive running into the backfield.
“First two tries for May and Edwards in the first 20 minutes. They were just completely in control.
Canterbury Bulldogs host Penrith Panthers in a clash at CommBank Stadium.
Kyle Flanagan makes his first appearance of the season after being named halfback alongside star five-eighth Matt Burton.
Flanagan’s recall saw Brandon Wakeham drop to the bench and Bailey Biondi-Odo dropped.
For the Panthers, star forwards James Fisher-Harris and Liam Martin will start in their regular jerseys after being included late last week.
Viliame Kikau is expected to overcome concussion protocols to take his place in the team.
That sets the stage for an important matchup for the Bulldogs, who need to play well to relieve Trent Barrett.
Meanwhile, the Panthers can move up to the top of the standings with a win.
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