The Penrith Panthers looked to end the regular season, with a 15th win on the bounce as they travelled to face the Canterbury Bulldogs.
An alleged eye gouge by Canterbury prop Luke Thompson on James Tamou overshadowed Penrith’s imperious 42-0 win on Saturday as they lifted the JJ Giltinan Shield for the first time since 2003.
Bulldogs winger Jayden Okunbor also suffered a suspected ACL rupture and second-rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner was helped off with a leg injury in a bitter ending to their campaign at ANZ Stadium.
Panthers second-rower Kurt Capewell and centre Brent Naden claimed doubles in the eight-try rout to help the Ivan Cleary-coached side warm up for the finals in fine style.
But the Thompson incident was the talking point. The Englishman was placed on report by referee Henry Perenara in the 15th minute after Penrith captain Tamou made a complaint.
Replays on Fox League showed the Test forward’s right hand on Tamou’s face while he fought to tackle his opposing front-rower to the ground.
If charged and found guilty, Thompson would likely be in for an extended break given Canberra’s Hudson Young copped an eight-game ban for eye gouging at the end of last season after he served five matches for a similar act earlier in the year.
Former Rabbitoh George Burgess was also banned for nine games for eye gouging in 2019. Thompson, who joined the Bulldogs from St Helens in June, outlined his worth by recording more than 180 metres in a strong performance.
There was a mixture of celebration and sentiment in the air to begin the clash. Penrith were basking in the glory of their minor premiership, having secured the achievement with a win over the Cowboys last week, while 15th-placed Canterbury farewelled a raft of players.
Stalwart prop Aiden Tolman, unwanted by the Bulldogs next season, was denied the chance to play a 276th match for the club due to a calf injury in the warm-up.
Kerrod Holland, Sauaso Sue and Jack Cogger made their final appearances in blue and white as the injured Kieran Foran, who will re-join Manly next year, watched on.
It was announced this week that long-time referee Gavin Badger wouldn’t be retained as an NRL match official in 2021 and he bowed out on touch judge duties.
Penrith rested fullback Dylan Edwards, as well second-rower Viliame Kikau and centre Stephen Crichton, but Daine Laurie didn’t miss a beat slipping into the No.1 jumper.
The 21-year-old speedster set up the opening try for winger Brian To’o in the sixth minute as the Panthers took control after an early 40/20 kick by Cogger.
Capewell took over Kikau’s role and helped himself to a double either side of Naden’s first try. The score ballooned to 24-0 at half-time despite Canterbury hanging reasonably tough in defence for the opening half an hour.
Capewell’s first touchdown came in the 31st minute from a smart grubber by outstanding five-eighth Jarome Luai, who then sent Naden over after splitting the line.
Naden turned provider for Capewell next, kicking infield after Nathan Cleary put him in space with a nice cut-out pass.
HALF-TIME: Canterbury Bulldogs 0-24 Penrith Panthers
Winger Josh Mansour got the party started in the second term with a 54th-minute try before Naden crossed from a deflected Cleary grubber.
Matt Burton, coming off the bench and playing centre when May moved to hooker after Api Koroisau was given an early rest, powered in from a Luai short ball in the 66th minute.
Thompson was ruled to have knocked on as he attempted to barge over for a try at the death. Tamou fended away from Thompson to claim the final try under the posts.
Young Bulldogs outside back Tui Katoa made his debut after Okunbor went off in the 25th minute. Faitala-Mariner’s afternoon was cut short midway through the second half.
FULL-TIME: Canterbury Bulldogs 0-42 Penrith Panthers
Hopoate, Watene-Zelazniak, R. Smith, Holland, Okunor, Cogger, Wakeham, Thompson, Marshall-King, Sue, C. Smith, Faitala-Mariner, Jackson
Interchanges: To’omaga, S. Katoa, Britt, T. Katoa
Laurie, Mansour, May, Naden, To’o, Luai, Cleary, Tamou, Koroisau, Fisher-Harris, Capewell, Martin, Yeo
Interchanges: Burton, Leniu, Leota, Tetevano
Tries: To’o, Capewell (2), Naden (2), Mansour, Burton, Tamou
Goals: Cleary (5/8)
Referee: H. Perenara
Touch Judges: J. Stone, G. Badger
Video Referee: S. Chiddy
Image Source: @NRL (twitter)