|Match Date||17th Mar, 2001|
|Venue||Penrith Park (Penrith Stadium)|
Mountainous Willie Mason showed the size and substance of the Bulldogs' premiership aspirations when he rumbled over against the Panthers on Saturday night.
Mason's converted try seven minutes from the end gave the Bulldogs a winning 32-20 lead after the teams had been 20-20 with 11 minutes to go.
Last season the Bulldogs had impressive early wins and were barking up the right tree before fading with a whimper.
This season they are undefeated after five rounds, but a difference is apparent and it is of a greater dimension than the vaunted extra pace.
Coach Steve Folkes could afford to wait until late on Saturday night before using the mountainous Mason, with outsized personality to match, as a potential game-breaker.
He could afford to hold back five-eighth Braith Anasta, hyped as a combination of Brad Fittler, Don Bradman and Michael Jordan after the debut which exceeded all fairy tales, until well into the second half.
Anasta then gave the final pass for two tries. After the hype of last week it was hard for him to keep his feet on the ground, said the caring coach who knew what was best for his player.
Folkes could afford to keep Test prop and captain Darren Britt on the bench for the kick-off and save him for the time when minds wander and bodies wilt later in the half.
The coach could do all these things because this season he has got depth and players with confidence in each other and the plan.
And "confidence" was a word that got a big workout.
"That was a tremendous game of football," Penrith coach Royce Sim-mons said.
"That's the best we have played all year. They just had a little bit more confidence, which allowed them to show more patience."
Bulldogs second-rower Darren Smith, a popular man of the match and perhaps in his last season, agreed: "We are playing with a lot more confidence. We have got the pace and when you do something, you know someone will be there to back you up."
Performance backed up Smith's words. The Bulldogs scored five high-quality tries constructed on confidence and understanding.
But then Penrith scored three quality ones of their own in a match which backed up Simmons' words, militated against only by defensive alignment errors which could be forgiven this early in the season.
And that vaunted pace was not the deciding factor. Britt's cool head in the tight stuff counted. So did prop partner Steve Price's renewed expression on the "C" word. And halfback Craig Polla-Mounter is not just the individualist and support player he once was.
He is in the young veteran class, and with that experience he has changed. Polla-Mounter is now adept at leading his team around the park.
The 32-year-old Smith is a veteran too. Once a tearaway second-rower or rugged Test inside centre, he is now more creative and reads the game a treat.
The Bulldogs are now looking like the real thing.
Simmons was talking of turning corners, a five-or-six game winning streak after seeing his team come back from 14-2 and hit the front through courage and character and the class of Ryan Girdler and Craig Gower.
Courage and character are admirable, but there is also the suspicion the Panthers lack the depth to be more than admirable opponents.Source: The Australian
|Hazem El Masri||Wing||0||6||0||12|
|Brent Sherwin||Five Eighth||0||0||0||0|
|Craig Polla-Mounter||Half Back||0||0||0||0|
|Darren Smith||Second Row||1||0||0||4|
|Jamie Feeney||Second Row||0||0||0||0|
|Steve Price||Front Row||0||0||0||0|
|Paul Rauhihi||Front Row||0||0||0||0|