Penrith coach hails ‘gang’ in powerful 44-18 win against Canterbury

Penrith has confirmed its place at the top of the NRL ladder with a 44-18 win over Canterbury on Sunday.

Penrith has confirmed its place at the top of the NRL ladder with a 44-18 win over Canterbury on Sunday. Photo: AAP

Ivan Cleary has declared the gang is back together after Penrith celebrated the return of Nathan Cleary and their rested State of Origin players with a 44-18 drubbing of Canterbury.

The victory reinstates the reigning premiers atop the NRL ladder and continues the Bulldogs’ run of poor defensive performances.

In their past five games, the Bulldogs have conceded 234 points – only two fewer than the Panthers have all season.

As close to full strength as it has been all season, Penrith inflicted the bulk of the damage in the opening exchanges, running in 28 unanswered points to put the game beyond doubt after half an hour.

“It was just good to have the whole gang back together,” Cleary said.

“I’m looking forward to the next few weeks. We should hopefully get a bit better, but we did a lot right today.”

The only sour note for the Panthers was a suspected medial cruciate ligament injury to Spencer Leniu that forced the interchange prop from the field.

“I don’t think it’s too bad but it was bad enough for him not to come out in the second half. We’ll know more about that tomorrow,” Cleary said.

Centre Izack Tago was a late withdrawal with a leg complaint but Cleary did not believe the issue was serious.

Halfback Cleary showed no signs of the hamstring injury that had kept him out since round 14 and was his busy self on return.

He ran the line that led to the first of Brian To’o’s two tries, then swung left to give the Panthers the overlap that confirmed a double for Tyrone Peachey.

In the second half, a beautiful flat ball from Cleary sent Luke Garner over on the right for his first try as a Panther.

“There was a bit of rust in some of the stuff he did today. But he played well,” Cleary said of his son.

The Bulldogs showed more fight the further the game went on, scoring only four fewer points than the Panthers in the second half.

“I’m probably as proud of them this week as I have been for a long time,” coach Cameron Ciraldo said.

“The way the game started, the adversity we had there, I’m really proud of how they hung in there and I thought we finished really strong.”

But Canterbury shot itself in the foot when the game was in the balance – all of Penrith’s first four tries came directly after a penalty or an error from the Bulldogs.

A bout of the flu swept through Bulldogs camp this week and forced Ciraldo to make late changes, benching co-captain Reed Mahoney and scratching promising rookie Jacob Preston.

“There were probably two other guys there who, if we had a full squad, they probably wouldn’t have played with the flu as well,” Ciraldo said.

By the time Mahoney came onto the field to play as a middle forward, Canterbury was four tries down, but it did manage to stem the bleeding.

The Bulldogs scored their first try late in the first half, enjoyed all the territory to begin the second and kept Penrith to only one try in 29 minutes across the break.

But the result was never in doubt as the Panthers sealed its comfortable win with three second-half tries.


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