Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs were denied three straight wins by the Gold Coast Titans who proved too strong in the second half to run out 28-14 victors.
With James Graham set for another stint on the sidelines, Antonio Kaufusi joined Aiden Tolman in the engine room. Trent Hodkinson, Josh Jackson, Brett Morris, Josh Morris and David Klemmer were all on Origin duty. Chase Stanley and Corey Thompson came into the backline with Lloyd Perrett, Danny Fualalo and debutant Shaun Lane filling the bench.
According to NRL stats man David Middleton, it is the biggest NRL team to have ever taken the field!
There was plenty of graft and endeavour from an understrength Bulldogs team and despite going to the break at level-pegging, Titans outscored Bulldogs 18-4 in the second half to win 28-14.
It took Bulldogs just five minutes to open the scoring through – you guessed it – Curtis Rona. On the back of an enterprising start from the blue and whites, Rona picked up a loose ball which had been knocked down by the Titans to scoot over only metres from the line. Moses Mbye mishit the conversion to leave it 4-0.
It only took until the 8th minute for the Titans to hit back through their own try-scoring machine James Roberts. It was on the back of an earlier charge down from Kevin Gordon. Former Bulldog junior Aidan Sezer failed to convert for 4-4.
Lane got his first taste of NRL action in the 20th minute. Meanwhile, obstruction from Sam Kasiano with Bulldogs in possession gifted Titans a great chance to cross again but strong defence from Tim Browne and Michael Lichaa forced an error on the first tackle.
Bulldogs got their noses back in front in the 28th minute with Kasiano crashing over on the back of great footwork and an offload from Browne. Mbye knocked over the conversion for 10-4.
Titans weren’t short on chances to hit back but Bulldogs stood firm to deny them time and time again. However, with only seconds left on the clock Sezer nailed a 40/20 before racing up field to give his side one last shot. He kicked cross field, with the half-time siren sounding in the background, and a wicked bounce deceived Thompson to be plucked out of the air by Gordon. Sezer converted from the sideline for 10-10 at the break.
Bulldogs looked set to post the first points of the second half in the 50th minute with a full set on the Titans line but after Kasiano bumped off a tackle he threw an offload which was intercepted. In that set, Titans charged up field and countered via Brad Tighe, capitalising on a David Mead break. Sezer added the extras to extend the lead to 16-10 in the 54th minute.
Kasiano and Tolman combined for a rib rattler on Gordon in the 56th minute which inspired the ‘Dogs Of War’ to rally and keep the Titans only 5m out from their line on the last tackle. However, Roberts dummied on the last and split Bulldogs up the middle before shooting a pass out to the left to Tighe. Tighe put the pedal to the floor but Mbye came up with a miraculous try saver! Incredible speed!
Another cross field kick brought an error from Thompson who misjudged his catch. The ball bounced kindly for the awaiting chasers headed by Josh Hoffman who planted the ball down. Sezer converted for 22-10 in the 60th minute.
Sam Perrett looked to spread the ball wide to Tim Lafai straight from a kick return but the ball was ruled to have gone forward. Titans looked to turn the screws on the Bulldogs but could only force a dropout after a probing set of six. The bank of possession came to nothing with Ryan James penalised for a double movement.
A beautifully worked backline movement featuring Mbye and Pritchard in the 71st minute saw Bulldogs hit back via Rona. Pritchard was taken from the field with concussion afterwards. Mbye hooked the conversion to the right leaving an eight point deficit.
Josh Reynolds offered a moment of inspiration in the 75th minute in slicing through to find space but was hauled down by Mead as he looked for support. From the subsequent set, Titans went straight back up the other end of the field and sealed the victory via Roberts. Sezer added the two from directly in front for a final score of 28-14.
Bulldogs next Saturday night host the Panthers at ANZ Stadium with kick-off 7:30pm local time.
TITANS 28 (Roberts 2, Gordon, Tighe, Hoffman Tries; Sezer 4 Goals) def. BULLDOGS 14 (Rona 2, Kasiano Tries; Mbye 1 Goal)
At: Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast