The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs made it three consecutive one-point victories in defeating the Rabbitohs 15-14 at ANZ Stadium in front of 43,255 fans in round 7.
In a tremendous showing of courage and character, the Bulldogs fought back to claim another last-minute win after again falling behind early. It took Bulldogs 78 minutes to find the front against the Warriors last week, and it was the same magic 78 minute mark that again proved the difference.
Bulldogs went into their Round 7 clash without co-captain Frank Pritchard, who will be out of action for three to four months after suffering a pectoral tear against the Warriors. Pat O’Hanlon was originally named as his replacement but a late change saw Sam Kasiano named on the bench to make his first appearance for 2014.
The match was played at a high tempo for the opening period with both sides displaying great intensity but lacking the execution to post the first points.
The game’s first major talking point came in the 10th minute when the Bulldogs were denied a try. On the back of a penalty, Bulldogs marched up field and after a probing set of six, a cross-field kick from Josh Reynolds was kept alive by Sam Perrett before a long ball from Josh Morris put winger Corey Thompson over in the corner. However, the video referee deemed an obstruction.
An error in the 12th minute from Tim Lafai on his own 10m line gave Rabbitohs a great opportunity to open the scoring but the Bulldog’s defence stood firm forcing the Rabbitohs to make a handling error of their own.
Captain Michael Ennis was ushered up the tunnel in the 19th minute with cut to top of his head and South Sydney nearly cashed in on his absence immediately, going close in the corner via Nathan Merritt. An excellent piece of cover defence from Mitch Brown forced a fumble.
Kasiano announced his return to the side with a couple of strong runs through the middle but once again it was James Graham who stood tallest for the Bulldog’s pack, racking up plenty of hard-hitting first half tackles.
In a 40 minutes littered with penalties, it was fitting that a penalty broke the deadlock with Adam Reynolds knocking one over from in front of the posts. It was 2-0 in the 31st minute.
On the back of another penalty, the Rabbitohs set up camp close to the Bulldog’s line and a John Sutton pass to Sam Burgess finally unlocked the Bulldog’s defence with Burgess forcing his way over to score the first try of the match in the 35th minute. Reynolds slotted the two and in doing so extended the lead to 8-0. That’s the way the score stayed before the half-time siren sounded.
Bulldogs were boosted by the return of Ennis in the second half, who led his team out in an unfamiliar headgear.
Tim Browne was held up in the 48th minute but it wasn’t long after before the Bulldogs finally broke through themselves. A slick backline movement in the 52nd minute allowed Perrett to ghost across the field before throwing a cut-out pass to Brown who acrobatically planted the ball in the corner. Hodkinson added the extras from the sideline to make the score 8-6.
Perrett fumbled the kick-off giving the Rabbitohs the opportunity to answer back immediately. Rabbitohs then forced a dropout after a clever Reynolds kick and a strong Greg Inglis tackle, but an 80m dropkick from Trent Hodkinson released the pressure valve.
A line break in the 60th minute saw Lafai sprinting clear but he was hauled down by Inglis. There looked to be something brewing on the right for the Bulldogs but Perrett put the ball down. The momentum of the match was starting to swing with earlier injuries for the Rabbitohs starting to take their toll.
However, it was the Rabbitohs who struck the next blow, with Sutton proving too strong bullocking his way over the line from close range in the 65th minute. Reynolds was successful with his conversion giving his side a 14-6 lead with 15 minutes remaining.
An error from the kick-off after a strong tackle from David Klemmer gave Bulldogs field possession on the Rabbitoh’s line. Quick hands from Perrett and then Lafai presented Thompson with half an opening and the Bulldog’s winger did brilliantly to beat several covering defenders and get the ball down. Hodkinson arrowed it over from the sideline to make it 14-12.
Josh Reynolds’ clearing kick from the next set was collected by Bryson Goodwin but a hearty tackle from Thompson forced the ball loose, capping a big couple of minutes for the winger. A fellow Rabbitoh scooped the ball up but was deemed to be in offside position. Bulldogs pointed to the posts and Hodkinson made no mistake in levelling up the score at 14-all in the 72nd minute.
Now well-practiced at kicking field goals, Reynolds had the first attempt of the two teams in the 75th minute but it skewed wide off the boot. From the subsequent set Graham charged down a field goal effort from the Rabbitohs, and although the Rabbitohs recovered the ball for a repeat set, all that came of the six tackles was a haphazard shot from Merritt.
Bulldogs charged up the field from the next set and Hodkinson snapped over the field goal to take the lead 15-14 in the 78th minute.
No ALR/NRL team has ever won by a single point in three consecutive games. Bulldogs tonight made history. Better still, the Bulldogs now sit atop of the NRL ladder with Titans still to play on Monday night.
Bulldogs next Saturday night host the Knights at ANZ Stadium. Kick-off at 7:30pm.
BULLDOGS 15 (Brown, Thompson Tries; Hodkinson 3 Goals; Hodkinson 1 Field Goal) def. RABBITOHS 14 (Sam Burgess, Sutton Tries; Reynolds 3 Goals)
At: ANZ Stadium