The Bulldogs, who were beaten by Sydney Roosters in their last outing before picking up two points for a bye last week, went down 32-10 to Manly Sea Eagles on Friday.
Penrith, Canterbury and Manly now find themselves level on 18 points, with the former boasting a superior points difference.
Brett Stewart crossed twice in the Sea Eagles’ victory on Friday, but half-back Daly Cherry-Evans is a doubt for State of Origin II after aggravating a knee problem.
The Panthers’ ascent to the top of the league came courtesy of a 36-14 victory at Gold Coast Titans the following day.
The visitors got off to a brilliant start when James Segeyaro scored a fine individual try, running 40 metres from dummy half to score next to the posts.
Both sides had their moments in the first 40, but the Panthers were able to open up a 24-8 lead after the interval.
The Titans had gone scoreless in the second half of their last two games and this trend looked like repeating itself before the side’s leading try-scorer, David Mead, added to his tally.
Despite Mead’s efforts, the Panthers were not to be caught and added late tries through Jamie Soward and Matt Moylan.
Five teams are tied on 16 points, just two short of the leading trio.
All of those sides claimed round-13 victories, with the Roosters defeating Melbourne Storm 32-12, South Sydney Rabbitohs coming from behind to secure a 34-18 triumph over New Zealand Warriors and Brisbane Broncos thumping Canberra Raiders 28-4.
Elsewhere, Wests Tigers edged Newcastle Knights, whose long-term future remains in doubt after an impasse in financial negotiations, 23-20, and Parramatta Eels’ 18-16 win against North Queensland Cowboys was an even tighter affair.
All in all, it was a grim round for those in the bottom half of the NRL ladder, but St George Illawarra Dragons demolished the beleaguered Cronulla Sharks 30-0 to register their first win in five.
The Sharks have now gone 189 minutes without scoring a point.
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