The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs tonight scored an inspired victory over the Manly Sea Eagles with a late try sealing a 23-16 win in front of 14,921 fans.
With Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson on Origin III duty, coach Des Hasler was again forced to get creative with his 17. Josh Jackson and Tony Williams started in the halves in what is SURELY the biggest halfback/five-eight pairing in NRL history. Reni Maitua and Sam Kasiano were drafted into the first 13 with Damien Cook and Dale Finucane shifting back to the interchange bench.
A win from an understrength Bulldog’s team would draw them level with Manly at the summit of the premiership ladder. The scoring went tit for tat for much of the match with a 16 all deadlock broken by a field goal from Michael Ennis before a try on the siren to the skipper sealed the win.
Bulldogs lost Aiden Tolman in the opening minutes of the match, with the prop suffering a reoccurrence of a hamstring injury that has recently kept him sidelined.
It was a cautious start by both sides but a penalty in the 12th minute gave Bulldogs the chance to break the game open. Williams found Kasiano down the left who slid over in the corner, only for the video referee to controversially deny the try.
13' Call is NO TRY. On-field decision overruled. Sea-Eagles ball from the 20m line #NRLcbyman— NRL Bulldogs (@NRL_Bulldogs) July 4, 2014
On the back of a dropout and then a penalty, Manly had the opportunity to open the scoring themselves and did so through lock Dunamis Lui who charged over next to the posts in the 18th minute. Jamie Lyon added the two for a 6-0 lead.
A strong tackle from James Graham and Tim Browne forced an error from the subsequent kick off, giving the Bulldogs the chance to strike back straight away. However, Manly’s defence stood firm.
It was a bright start from back-rower-come-halfback Williams who looked dangerous every time he touched the ball.
In the 22nd minute there was no doubt this time with Ennis putting a rampant Graham through a hole to cross the line virtually untouched. Krisnan Inu added the extras to level it up at 6-6.
Back-to-back penalties in the 31st minute saw Manly march up field starting their set 20m out from the Bulldog’s line. A solid set of defence kept the Sea Eagles at bay.
With five minutes remaining in the second half Williams was again in the thick of things sending the ball wide to Inu who skipped past a few defenders to score his first try of the season. He converted his own try for a 12-6 lead. That’s the way the score stayed at the break.
36' TRYTIME!!! Inu scores with some great footwork and the Bulldogs lead 10-6, ktc #NRLCbyMan— NRL Bulldogs (@NRL_Bulldogs) July 4, 2014
Graham led the charge in the first 40 minutes amassing 21 tackles and 11 hitups to go with his four-pointer.
Manly were gifted the chance to strike early in the second half with a Mitch Brown error eventually leading to winger Clinton Gutherson crossing over in the corner. Lyon couldn’t convert from the sideline leaving the score 12-10 in the 45th minute.
In the 53rd minute a cross-field grubber from Ennis evaded Brett Stewart for Corey Thompson to pounce on the loose ball and restore Bulldog’s six point lead. Inu’s conversion attempt was waved away with the score staying 16-10.
Manly levelled it up soon after with Justin Horo cashing in on a Brown fumble from a high ball. Lyon’s conversion made it 16-16 in the 60th minute.
Inu pushed his snap shot at field goal in the 72nd minute wide but there was no mistake made by Ennis two minutes later, nailing his effort for a 17-16 lead.
Kasiano charged down Manly’s shot to tie it up again but gave the visiting side six again with four minutes on the clock. A spill from Steve Matai released the pressure though.
A frantic close to the game saw a chip and chase from Peta Hiku touch the paint of the sideline after the Manly winger broke free down the right hand side.
With only a minute remaining, Williams attempt to drill the ball into touch rebounded off the legs of Lyon into the path of Browne who put Ennis over under the sticks on the buzzer. Inu converted for a memorable 23-16 victory.
Graham topped the counts ending the match with 42 tackles and 21 hit ups.
Bulldogs next week head to Melbourne to play the Storm on Saturday night at AAMI Park. Kick off at 7:30pm local time.
BULLDOGS 23 (Graham, Inu, Thompson, Ennis Tries; Inu 3 Goals, Ennis 1 Field Goal) def. MANLY 16 (Lui, Gutherson, Horo Tries; Lyon 2 Goals)
At: ANZ Stadium