Looking for their fifth win in a row this Saturday, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs take on the Newcastle Knights at ANZ Stadium.
Leading the NRL in 1st position for the first time since 2012, the Bulldogs have 5 wins from 7 games, on average scoring 22 points and conceding a low 13 points.
In front of a crowd of 43, 255 the Bulldogs defeated competition heavyweights South Sydney Rabbitohs 15-14 on Good Friday. The Dogs have now won four games straight and set a new record for the first team ever to win three consecutive matches by one point.
It was a defence-orientated game that saw no points scored in the first 20 minutes. Souths took an 8-0 lead at half time thanks to a penalty goal from halfback Adam Reynolds and a try to Sam Burgess.
The Bulldogs pack was ruthless, James Graham and Dale Finucane linking up for a bruising tackle on Joe Picker that forced him from the field before the break.
Shortly after half time the Bulldogs scored through a beautiful back line play that saw Trent Hodkinson pass to Sam Perrett who put Mitch Brown over in the corner. Hodkinson nailed the conversion to reduce Souths lead to 2 points.
With the game in the balance, Rabbitohs captain John Sutton took the ball and scored his sides 2nd try. Down by 8 points with 13 minutes to go, Dogs winger Corey Thompson beat 3 defenders to score in the corner. Hodkison kicked his 2nd from the sideline to reduce the game to 2 points again before he was gifted another opportunity to kick a penalty goal and level the match.
With 5 minutes left to go and the scores locked at 14-all, it was like déjà vu for the Bulldogs, who only needed one point to win the match. A failed field goal attempt from Josh Reynolds was followed by a golden opportunity for Souths to win the match but Nathan Merritt sprayed it wide.
Finally, in the 78th minute, Trent Hodkinson nailed a field goal to win the match 15-14. Prop James Graham was named Man of the Match and Players Player, with 20 runs for 174m and 38 tackles, but insists that the tight wins will help the Dogs in the long run.
“I’m hopeful this will stand us in good stead for the rest of the year. These tight wins lift the feeling in the dressing rooms. It’s probably a little bit better when you come away with a closer win there.
“We’re an ambitious team and I can only presume that the bigger games are going to be decided by small margins so its very good practice for us if we’re going in the right direction, “ said Graham.
Newcastle slumped to their fifth loss of the season last Friday, going down 32-6 against Brisbane at Hunter Stadium. After losses to Penrith, Canberra, Melbourne, North Queensland & Brisbane, the Knights will look to bounce back against the Bulldogs.
Boasting International representatives Darius Boyd, Kurt Gidley, Jeremy Smith and Willie Mason, the Knights haven’t clicked into gear this year, often starting games well but not playing consistently over 80 minutes.
Halfback Jarrod Mullen returned from a hamstring injury in Round 6 against Canberra, and helped steer his side to their 2nd win from 6 games. However, his injury is clearly not 100% healed, evident in some cautious runs from the halfback last week against the Broncos.
Newcastle lose former Bulldogs superstar Willie Mason for 2 weeks after he was charged with a shoulder charge offence at the judiciary. Kade Snowden returns from injury to replace Mason in the starting side. Akuila Uate and Timana Tahu are both still missing to knee injuries.
The Bulldogs have named an un-changed line-up this weekend, Sam Kasiano keeping his spot on the bench after being a late inclusion last Friday.
Running 17 times for 139m and making 49 tackles in 80 minutes, second rower Josh Jackson believes his side would be better with co-captain Frank Prtichard (torn pec) but credits the bench rotation for part of his their success.
“Obviously Frank is a big part of our team. He helps with out go forward a lot. I think our depth has helped with that we’ve got big boys on the bench like David Klemmer, Tim Browne & even T-Rex who started on the field who help with that,” said Jackson.
Newcastle boast a strong record against Canterbury, defeating them on three occasions in 2013 for the first time in the club’s history. The Knights have won 6 of their last 9 matches against the Dogs, including a 22-6 victory in last year’s Elimination Final.
Head to Head
Played 40, Canterbury-Bankstown 19, Newcastle 20, Drawn 1.
At ANZ Stadium
Played 13, Canterbury-Bankstown 7, Newcastle 6.