The signs are ominous for the Bulldogs. The Blue and Whites are looking like certainties for the NRL wooden spoon and it seems virtually all involved have clocked off and are waiting for 2009 to roll around.In the end the Panthers cruised to 52-16 win in front of a small crowd at CUA Stadium.
The Panthers gladly took the victory at CUA Stadium last night, the Bulldogs providing the ultimate confidence finder after Penrith were walloped last week in Canberra. For the Bulldogs, the prospect of the wooden spoon for being the worst team is crippling.
They received the spoon in 2002 after being stripped of all their competition points for rorting the salary cap just a few rounds before the end of the regular season.
But the last time they were genuinely the worst team in the premiership was way back in the swinging 1960s. The only sliver of good news last night after a nine-try thumping was that bottom-placed North Queensland lost to the Gold Coast to remain two points clear in the race for the dreaded utensil.
The third official, Russell Smith, ruled no try against El Masri.
And awarded a penalty to the Panthers.
From the next set, Panthers zip-zip man Michael Jennings sent Luke Rooney over for the first of his four tries and the Dogs were trailing 12-0 too soon and are unable to take a trick.
“I guess you can cut and paste the last four weeks,” was coach Steve Folkes’s appraisal, with the Bulldogs conceding 174 points since Sonny Bill Williams left them high and dry.
“We got a couple of dud decisions tonight, as well. That tends to happen to you when things aren’t going your way. It was another one of those nights, unfortunately.
“We’re trying. Confidence is obviously pretty low. There’s no easy way out of it. We’ve just got to keep trying.
“There’s nothing much to play for, only a bit of pride and avoiding the wooden spoon, but that’s not really a motivator in a lot of ways, is it?”
The Panthers had 74 points put on them by Canberra last week. They only scored 12. That’s a losing margin of 62. Net turnaround – 98 points.
The Bulldogs had deceit placed in their lap about a month ago. It was shaping up to be such a bloody awful game that it was filled with a morbid fascination.
“I’m over the moon for the players – it’s been a very difficult week for them,” Panthers coach Matthew Elliott said. “We got over last week pretty quickly. That sort of stuff [the Raiders loss] is easier if you see it coming. That really mugged us all.
“We’re getting the bolognese sauce tested because there was no pre-indicator to it at all. I think we did a fair job of moving on, but you can’t say we haven’t been conscious of it most minutes of most days.”
Asked about the Bulldogs’ on-field mood, Panthers captain Petero Civoniceva said: “It’s obviously very tough for them, but there are no signs of fighting or any arguing out on the field. It’s a really tough one. They’ve just got to keep punching on.”
The poor old Dogs. Their heads kept sinking.
Jennings is some player.
From a standing start, he sidestepped Ben Barba then swerved around half-a-dozen Dogs to score a brilliant individual try.
Bulldogs centre Daryl Millard got over the line and Smith was again called upon. This time he had mercy up on the Bulldogs’ soul. Try.
You know the Dogs are battling when El Masri misses a conversion attempt, albeit from the sideline.
The crowd, a suitably non-existent 7841, were rewarded with a half-century and some scintillating four-pointers but there was something a bit tragic about it all given the plight of the opposition.
The clock slowly wound down, the Panthers found a few more points to creep past 50 and mercifully, soon enough, the horror movie was over.
PENRITH 52 (L Rooney 4 M Bell M Blair M Jennings T Puletua B Tighe tries M Gordon 8 goals) bt BULLDOGS 16 (D Holdsworth 2 D Millard tries H El Masri 2 goals) at CUA Stadium. Referee: G Badger. Crowd: 7,841.