Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs beat Manly Sea Eagles in Golden Point 18-17 courtesy of a second Trent Hodkinson field goal in a game that had absolutely everything.
The Bulldogs ran out as per the program with Reni Maitua the only change to the team that dismantled Melbourne Storm last week, replacing Pat O’Hanlon who suffered a broken leg in the clash. There were plenty of changes to the Manly side though, which included former Bulldog Daniel Harrison being named at hooker.
Bulldogs had played Manly four times in finals footy, winning three of them so they took plenty of confidence into the sudden death fixture with the winner set to play Penrith for a shot at the Grand Final.
Few would have thought that after Bulldogs went out to an early 16-0 lead that the match would be decided after 84 minutes and go down as one of the club’s most memorable wins. A brave Manly side clawed their way back into the match with a Hodkinson field goal in Golden Point proving the difference.
In the opening minutes of the match, Bulldogs were finding plenty of space down their right edge with Tim Lafai looking particularly dangerous in possession.
However, it was down the left where the first points of the match came with Mitch Brown crossing in the corner on the back of a slick backline movement involving Josh Morris and Tony Williams. Trent Hodkinson missed the conversion to leave the score 4-0 in the 12th minute.
In the very next set of six the Bulldogs struck again, this time via Corey Thompson who was the beneficiary of another backline play. Hodkinson made no mistake this time, extending the lead to 10-0 in the 16th minute.
Hodkinson left the field in the 17th minute with a knee complaint with T-Rex temporarily shifting to partner Josh Reynolds in the halves.
If the disruption affected the team they didn’t let it show as only minutes later James Graham put Sam Perret through a hole before the fullback’s fancy footwork saw him evade Brett Stewart to score under the posts. Lafai assumed kicking duties and added the extras for a 16-0 lead in the 20th minute.
Josh Jackson was put on report in the 24th minute for a chicken wing tackle on Josh Starling. The two players came together afterwards with Starling finding himself in the sin bin for throwing a punch.
The video referee was called into action for a possible Bulldogs try in the 28th minute but Reynolds was ruled to have lost the ball before Jackson scooped it up to score. The score remained 16-0.
To a loud cheer from the Bulldogs faithful, Hodkinson returned to the field in the 29th minute with his knee strapped. It only took the incumbent Blues halfback a matter of minutes to make an impact, streaking clear after receiving an offload from Williams. However, the play broke down when Reynolds was tackled.
With only 30 seconds left in the first half Manly struck a late blow. Jayden Hodges scooted from dummy half to collect his side’s first try of the night. Jamie Lyon converted well after the siren had sounded to cut the lead to 16-6.
It was all Bulldogs in the opening half and their dominance deserved a bigger lead.
It was end to end football for the early part of the second forty minutes but neither team really asserted themselves, with the match turning into an arm wrestle.
Stewart finally broke the shackles in the 65th minute, prising the Bulldog’s defence open with a show-and-go before accelerating to score next to the sticks. Lyon added the two to leave it 16-10.
The momentum of the game swung to Manly and in the 71st minute a mistake from Michael Ennis gifted Cheyse Blair a try. Tempers again boiled over afterwards with Maitua finding himself in the sin bin this time. Lyon missed the conversion to leave it locked up at 16-16.
In a bizarre set of circumstances, a Reynolds grubber deep in Manly territory struck the referee which, under the rules of the game, saw the Bulldogs get the scrum feed. After a few settling tackles, Hodkinson slotted a field goal for a 17-16 lead with just minutes remaining.
With only 60 seconds left on the clock and on Manly’s final tackle, Daly Cherry-Evans levelled it up once more, kicking a field goal of his own.
After marching up field after the kick-off, Manly found themselves in position to snap another field goal but Williams charged down the attempt, to send the game to extra time.
After several unsuccessful field goal attempts, it was the radar boot of Hodkinson that saw one sail between the posts in the 84th minute and send the Bulldogs through to the Prelim Final! What a game! What a win! This match will become Bulldog folklore.
BULLDOGS 18 (Brown, Thompson, Perrett Tries; Hodkinson 1, Lafai 1 Goals; Hodkinson 2 Field Goals) def. MANLY 17 (Hodges, Stewart, Blair; Lyon 2 Goals; Cherry-Evans 1 Field Goal)
At: Allianz Stadium