Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs were beaten 19-18 by the Gold Coast Titans in a golden point thriller in the final round of the regular season.
The Bulldogs were boosted by the return of Josh Reynolds from suspension and co-captain Frank Pritchard who had recovered from a long-term pectoral injury, replacing Moses Mbye on the interchange bench. Dale Finucane missed the match due to a one week suspension incurred against the Rabbitohs.
Having set up an 18-0 lead in the first half it looked as though the Bulldogs would march into the finals series on the back of a comfortable win. However, the Titans clawed their way back into the match to eventually overhaul the deficit, with a William Zillman field goal sealing the victory.
It was the Bulldogs who struck the first blow through Tim Lafai in the 11th minute. Reynolds drifted across the field to open a hole for Josh Jackson who put Lafai in under the posts. Hodkinson made no mistake, extending the lead to 6-0. It was the seventh time in the last eight games the Bulldogs scored first.
Lafai was again in the thick of the action this time cutting through the Titans defence in the 14th minute. From the subsequent set of six Michael Ennis put James Graham in under the sticks from close range. Hodkinson added the two and in the 16th minute it was 12-0.
It was all Bulldogs in the first half but it wasn’t until the 35th minute that they crossed again. Reni Maitua collected his first four-pointer for the clubs since re-joining. The ball was kept alive, prising open the Titan’s defence allowing Maitua to accelerate into a gap before stepping his way to the line. Hodkinson converted for an 18-0 lead.
Bulldogs lost David Klemmer late in the first half to concussion and he didn’t return to the field.
Titans opened their account early in the second half with Faifai Loa capitalising on a scramble from Aidan Sezer’s cross-field kick. Sezer missed the conversion leaving it 18-4 in the 53rd minute.
Pritchard was introduced in the 56th minute and it only took ‘Frank The Tank’ a couple touches to threaten the line, being hauled down just short.
Against the run of play the Titans scored again with winger Anthony Don intercepting a loose ball to run 90m untouched. Graham tried mightily to chase him down but was no match. Sezer added the extras to cut the lead to 18-10 in the 60th minute.
The momentum had swung the Titans way and Greg Eastwood pulled off try saver in the 66th minute, collecting a chip kick to deny the home team another try.
Lafai had the opportunity to put the match to bed in the 69th minute but fumbled a bobbling ball with the line open. The Titans charged up field from the next set and after earning a repeat six, Mark Minichiello forced his way over in the corner, breaking the tackle of Mitch Brown having already evaded Josh Morris. Sezer missed the conversion to leave it 18-14 with eight minutes remaining.
Another Bulldogs error with the try line open, this time from Eastwood, proved costly. Titans found themselves in attacking territory on the back of a penalised Tony Williams shoulder charge on Sezer. The mounting pressure eventually told with Brad Takairangi crashing over from dummy half, levelling the score. With Sezer off the field, Daniel Mortimer had the chance to give the Titans the lead with just one minute on the clock but his conversion hit the post!
The siren sounded with golden point to decide the match.
Takairangi went from hero to villain, dropping the ball in the first set of six gifting the Bulldogs an opportunity to win the game but Hodkinson’s field goal attempt was waved away, with the half-back spraying it to the right.
From the next set of tackles the Titans rushed up the field getting themselves into field goal range and Zillman made it count, with a snapshot giving the Titans an unlikely 19-18 victory.
Bulldogs finish the season in seventh and next week play an elimination final against Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park. Check the site for further details.
TITANS 19 (Loa, Don, Minichiello, Takairangi; Sezer 1 Goals, Zillman 1 Field Goal) def. BULLDOGS 18 (Lafai, Graham, Maitua Tries; Hodkinson 3 Goals)
At: CBUS Super Stadium