Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs muscled up in a low-scoring second half to hold off the Parramatta Eels 18-16 in front of 30,394 fans.
Bulldogs ran out as per the 17 announced earlier in the week which saw Moses Mbye replace the suspended Josh Reynolds at five-eighth, while Reni Maitua came into the side for Sam Kasiano, who injured his ankle against the Broncos. This saw Aiden Tolman partner James Graham in the starting front row.
Canterbury versus Parramatta is one of the oldest rivalries in rugby league and with both teams fighting for finals football, there was plenty at stake. Attempting to right the ship after four consecutive losses, it was evident from the kick-off that this was a very different Bulldogs side to week’s prior. Three early tries proved enough for the Bulldogs in the end, and although failing to score in the second half, the boys stood tall in defence.
It was first blood to the Bulldogs with Greg Eastwood crashing over in the 6th minute after Tim Lafai skipped across the field from dummy half to put the lock into a hole. Trent Hodkinson added the extras for a 6-0 lead.
All of the early momentum was with the blue and whites but against the run of play the Eels levelled it up in the 21st minute through Jarryd Hayne who collected a Chris Sandow bomb next to the posts. Sandow made no mistake with the conversion. Soon after, Josh Jackson left the field with concussion and took no further part in the match.
Mitch Brown restored the Bulldog’s lead in the 24th minute after great footwork again from Lafai created space down the right for Brown to scramble over in the corner. Hodkinson arrowed his conversion through the sticks for a 12-6 score line.
On the back of a mistake from Sandow, the Bulldogs were gifted the chance to extend their lead and they took full advantage with Michael Ennis ducking out of hooker to put Aiden Tolman over for his ninth career try. Hodkinson converted and in the 30th minute it was 18-6.
Parramatta, on the back of a sustained spell of pressure, struck back via Semi Radradra in the 38th minute who was the beneficiary of a clever Hayne tap-on. Sandow sprayed his conversion right to leave things 18-10 at the break.
It was a huge first 40 minutes from Tolman who backed up his four-pointer with 15 hitups (for 120m) and 22 tackles, while Tony Williams caused plenty of havoc in his five carries.
It only took Parramatta four minutes into the second half to cut the lead down further, with Rardradra collecting his second of the night off a cut out pass from Corey Norman. Sandow knocked it over from the sideline leaving the score 18-16.
It was a real arm wrestle for the next period with the closest either side coming to adding points being Hodkinson in the 68th minute. The half-back looked certain to score but was hauled down by the scruff of his jersey by Pauli Pauli, forcing the ball loose as he endeavoured to slam it down.
In a tense final 10 minutes there were few attacking chances for either side but a Sandow 40/20 in the 77th minute gave the Eels a final chance. The Bulldog’s defence however, muscled up and forced an error from Will Hopoate who passed the ball over the sideline.
Bulldogs closed it out from there, earning the two competition points. Fist pumps from the boys as the siren rang out showed how much the victory meant as they march towards September.
Bulldogs next Thursday night will be looking to avenge their Round 19 defeat when they host the Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium. Kick-off at 7:45pm local time.
BULLDOGS 18 (Eastwood, Brown, Tolman Tries; Hodkinson 3 Goals) def. EELS 16 (Radradra 2, Hayne, Tries; Sandow 2 Goals)
At: ANZ Stadium