The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs tonight scored a hard-fought 6-4 victory over the Storm, taking them to equal top of the table again.
Josh Reynolds incurred a three week suspension in Origin III while Josh Morris aggravated his knee injury which saw Drury Low return to the side on the wing pushing Krisnan Inu into the centres. Josh Jackson was named five-eighth while Pat O’Hanlon came onto the interchange bench.
Bulldogs would need to call on all of the confidence gained from their backs-to-the-wall job against Manly, facing a strong Melbourne outfit with their stars Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk buoyed by Queensland’s Origin win on Wednesday night.
Bulldogs had won five of their seven away fixtures going into their Round 18 clash but hadn’t won any of their last seven matches against the Storm in Melbourne. On a wet winter’s night the players were welcomed onto the pitch by drizzling rain, promising a low-scoring duel. That’s the way it played out with a Trent Hodkinson conversion all the separated the sides after 80 minutes.
A kick to the corner from Greg Eastwood for Low in the 9th minute was as close as the Bulldog’s came to scoring in the opening minutes while Storm went close themselves in the 12th minute when winger Mahe Fonua was held up.
However, it was the Storm who crossed for the first four-pointer of the night in the 16th minute. Cronk put Kevin Proctor into a hole and the second-rower did the rest, evading the tackle of Mitch Brown. Smith missed the conversion, leaving it at 4-0.
A mistake from Storm’s new recruit Marika Koroibete inside his own half gave Bulldogs the right of reply in the 23rd minute but they were turned away after a probing set of six.
In a taxing 40 minutes, the Bulldogs had the last attacking foray of the first half on the back of a Storm dropout but were repelled again with the score remaining 4-0 at the break.
It took only five minutes into the second half for the Bulldogs to post their first points of the match via Sam Kasiano. A clever offload from James Graham on the Storm line gave Kasiano time to wind up and then stretch an arm out next to the posts to plant the ball down. Hodkinson made it 6-4, successfully converting the try.
It was a very bright start from the boys in blue who had all the early momentum in the second stanza, going close again in the 51st minute after Brown broke through only to be cut down by Slater.
It was a battle for territory for much for the period following but the game sparked to life again in the 68th minute when Slater sliced through the Bulldog’s defence only for Brown to return serve on his opposite number with an excellent covering tackle of his own.
Going into the final 10 minutes, Hodkinson’s conversion was still the only thing that separated the two sides. The Bulldogs really muscled up in defence with Melbourne peppering their line and just as they looked to get some respite from the raid, a mistake from Dale Finucane with five minutes remaining gave Melbourne another chance to snatch the lead at the death.
On the last tackle of the subsequent set Storm were given a penalty with the referee ruling that Tim Lafai blocked Koroibete as he contested a bomb. Smith decided to kick for goal from the sideline in attempt to level it up but the Storm skipper sent his kick to the right of the posts.
The Storm had a final chance to snatch victory but a Ben Roberts chip was safely collected by Corey Thompson. And that was all she wrote. Another brave Bulldogs victory.
Bulldogs next Sunday face the Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium, with kick-off 3pm local time.
BULLDOGS 6 (Kasiano; Hodkinson 1 Goal) def. STORM 4 (Proctor)
At: AAMI Park, Melbourne