The Panthers have dominated the Bulldogs 32-12 on the back of a masterclass from their back five, while Matt Dufty produced arguably the worst game of his career.
A third change of halfback in five rounds has not changed the fortunes for Trent Barrett and his Bulldogs, as Penrith continued a dominant run of humiliation over Canterbury on Sunday evening.
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The Panthers’ prevailed 32-12 to make it 132 points to 16 in their last four encounters against the blue and whites, three of which coached by Trent Barrett.
Far from Kyle Flanagan’s fault, it was other Bulldogs who went missing namely Matt Dufty at the back.
“Matt Dufty at fullback, he had one run, two meters gained and two errors. Unacceptable, ”Fox League’s Corey Parker launched into the 26-year-old former Dragon at half-time, and it didn’t get much better.
In contrast, the under-pressure Flanagan put a week in the headlines appeared to provide some direction inside the opposition 20 with “nice touches” as described by Mick Ennis and held his own in defense.
The Bulldogs were at least able to post some points at CommBank Stadium after Melbourne’s 44-nil demolition last Sunday, but Penrith’s fifth straight win to start 2022 only served to increase pressure on an already heavily scrutinized Barrett, with the Canterbury mentor publicly defending selection during the week.
Penrith became the first team since Melbourne in 2012-13 to start with five consecutive wins.
Here are the key takeaways from the match.
DUFTY GOES MISSING IN ABSOLUTE SHOCKER
Matt Dufty was heralded as one of the gamebreakers to ignite the Bulldogs attack, but he came up with the worst performance of his career against the Panthers.
Dufty made four errors and struggled for involvement with just 41 run meters from five runs in a lacklustre display for the Bulldogs.
Corey Parker blasted Dufty for failing to show any energy and involvement given his key position for the Bulldogs.
“What we have seen from the Bulldogs you need to have your best players playing well,” Parker said.
“Matt Dufty at fullback had one run and two meters gained and two errors at halftime. Unacceptable.
“There has been a couple of times when he has missed his assignments through that middle third. One was off Josh Jackson.
“He needs to find something.
“He hasn’t been involved at all and he plays fullback.
“He has an opportunity every set to get his hands on the ball and he hasn’t done that.
“They need their best players to get involved and he certainly hasn’t done that.
“He has been unacceptable.”
Cooper Cronk noted the play involving Bulldogs skipper Josh Jackson that summed up Dufty’s horror night.
“There was one play when Josh Jackson wanted to set him up on the inside and he was there and he gave up on his assignment,” Cronk said.
“There is no doubt that the coaching staff are telling Dufty to get involved because they lack scoring points.
“Dufty is one player in their team that can get over the stripe or set someone else up. They need more involvement from Dufty. ”
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FLANAGAN IMPRESSES IN FIERY CLASH WITH LUAI
He may not have led his side to victory, but there was plenty to like about Kyle Flanagan’s return to first grade, most notably his competitive tussle with Panthers five-eighth Jarome Luai.
All the talk during the week was about Flanagan’s return to the side after he fell out of favor with Trent Barrett after moving from the Roosters last season.
Flanagan took up the challenge issued by Luai and showed plenty of skill and fight in his comeback game.
Michael Ennis and Warren Smith were impressed by Flanagan’s aggressive approach against the Panthers.
“Flanagan has been impressive in his first game back in the NRL,” Smith said.
“He had some really nice touches with the footy,” Ennis said.
“He kicked across the field for the Tevita Pangai Jr try.
“He had some wonderful defense as well, keeping his gloves up in that department.”
Corey Parker praised Flanagan for not letting the pressure get to him against the competition’s best team.
“Nice little play from Kyle Flanagan who has been in the headlines all week,” Parker said.
“He produced a nice kick for Tevita Pangai to score.”
However it was the running battle between Flanagan and Luai that caught the eye of Lara Pitt and Cooper Cronk.
“Luai has been giving it to Kyle Flanagan who we know has been in the headlines,” Pitt said.
“But Kyle can take some confidence because he did set up only to try for the Bulldogs in the first half.”
“I’m loving the to and fro from Luai and Flanagan,” Cronk said.
“It was Luai who got into him first with that first try.
“Then Flanagan returned serve with a good kick and try assist.
“He also hit Luai in a tackle that dislodged the ball.
“I am liking the game within a game with these two.
“Obviously the scoreboard favors Luai but these two are going at 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 to injury, but in an ominous warning to the competition they still have arguably the most dangerous back five in the NRL.
Taylan May is proving a carbon copy of Origin winger To’o, while Stephen Crichton and Izack Tago are forming a brilliant center partnership.
Michael Ennis was effusive in his praise for May after he was set up by a superb Jarome Luai pass to set the tone for the night.
“My gosh watch the pass here from Jarome Luai,” Ennis said.
“This is brilliant. Jarome Luai in a split second just sees May unmarked out wide.
“May does a great job and gets back inside Burns, puts the ball in his left hand and gets the ball down.
“That is great work from Taylan May. Six tries now in three games.
“May has been terrific. He is proving a real handful on that left-hand side. ”
Warren Smith believes May’s transition into first grade has been so seamless that the Panthers have barely missed To’o.
“It has been remarkable the way he has just stepped in and filled in for Brian To’o like he is channeling Brian To’o himself,” Smith said.
“To’o won’t be back until Round 10 so there is another month of football for Taylan May.
“As far as carrying the ball, he can absorb contact.
“May has slotted in beautifully on that left wing.”
Cooper Cronk believes the Panthers boast arguably the most formidable back five in the competition.
“The Panthers are super impressive,” Cronk said.
“I really like what the back three are doing, particularly down that left-hand side.
“Edwards, May and Tago are dominating, whether it is with their defense and line speed or their aggressive running through the back field.
“First two tries to May and Edwards in the first 20 minutes. They were just completely in control. ”
The Canterbury Bulldogs host the Penrith Panthers in a clash at CommBank Stadium.
Kyle Flanagan makes his first appearance of the season after being named at halfback alongside star five-eighth Matt Burton.
Flanagan’s recall has seen Brandon Wakeham shift to the bench and Bailey Biondi-Odo dropped.
For the Panthers, star forwards James Fisher-Harris and Liam Martin will start in their usual jerseys after being late inclusions last week.
Viliame Kikau is expected to overcome concussion protocols to take his place in the team.
It sets the scene for an important clash for the Bulldogs, who need to play well to take the pressure off Trent Barrett.
Meanwhile, the Panthers can go outright top of the table with a win.
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