Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs turned it on for the 27,291 fans, prevailing 29-16 against the Dragons in a fast and furious 80 minutes of Monday afternoon football.
There were three big ins for the Bulldogs with skipper James Graham named earlier in the week to make his return but Brett Morris and Tim Lafai were also late inclusions. This pushed Sam Perrett back to the wing and Moses Mbye, originally named at centre, shifted to five-eighth with Josh Reynolds bolstering the bench. As has been reported, Tony Williams will miss the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral.
Seeking revenge for their 31-6 defeat back in Round 6 at the hands of their red and white rivals, Bulldogs sprung out of the boxes with great intensity to set up an early 10-0 lead. Dragons fought back to get their noses in front early in the second half but the ‘Dogs Of War’ rallied to run out impressive 29-16 winners.
It was the Dragons who looked set to open the scoring in the 5th minute when Eto Nabuli found room down the left edge but a great covering tackle from Brett Morris and Josh Jackson denied the Fijian flyer.
Bulldogs had a chance of their own soon after and it was that man again Curtis Rona who crossed the stripe for try 13 of the season, in the 7th minute, courtesy of a sharp backline movement. Trent Hodkinson sprayed his conversion attempt for 4-0.
In the 13th minute the Bulldogs were within metres of producing a moment of magic when a daring second tackle kick from Hodkinson on his own line saw Moses Mbye show blistering pace to lead the chase from fellow speedster Brett Morris. Mbye scooped up the ball but was hauled down just before the line. Dragons showed their customary scramble which sees them the league’s best defensive team to hold out.
It was an enterprising start from the blue and whites and a throwback to “The Entertainers” of yesteryear.
In a big moment, Graham limped off the field in the 17th minute with a match-ending hamstring injury. Scans tomorrow for the Englishman will reveal the full extent of the damage.
Mbye produced a cut out pass to release Rona down the right in the 20th minute and a clever in-field kick from Rona saw Josh Morris dive over. Hodkinson made no mistake this time, extending the lead to 10-0.
Bulldog’s defence proved equal to their attack for much of the first half but on the back of a questionable obstruction penalty and a well-worked move led by Benji Marshall, Gareth Widdop crossed in the 32nd minute. Widdop converted his own try for a 10-6 score line.
It was a free-flowing close to the second half but it stayed 10-6 at the break.
Widdop crossed for his second of the night in the 46th minute, again on the back of a Marshall assist with the Dragon’s number six dancing his way through the line. Widdop converted for the Dragons to nose ahead 12-10.
A Hodkinson error soon after gifted the Dragons the opportunity to post more points but only managed to force a dropout. From the ensuing set, Marshall returned the favour, dropping it cold. Pressure relieved.
Widdop was again in the thick of the action in the 57th minute, with a chip to the corner producing a wicked bounce which favoured Peter Mata’utia who collected a four-pointer untouched. Widdop hooked his conversion to leave things 16-10.
Josh Reynolds was injected into the game in the 60th minute at the expense of Hodkinson and it proved a masterstroke from coach Des Hasler.
A dropped ball from Nabuli in the 61st minute saw Bulldogs start a set of six only 30m out. A backline move afforded Brett Morris space down the right and a speculative flick pass as he was being bundled over the sideline found Lafai who juggled spectacularly before scraping the paint with his put down. The video referee ruled a try which gave Mbye the chance to level it up from the sideline. Mbye nailed it! 16 all.
At the end of the next set, a huge push led by Reynolds forced Josh Dugan back into his own goal resulting in a dropout. Momentum was well and truly with the Bulldogs now. A short ball from Sam Kasiano put Tim Browne over next to the posts. Mbye slotted the extras for 22-16 in the 68th minute.
Reynolds forced another error from Nabuli in the 70th minute. A couple of tackles in, Mbye spotted Rona in plenty of space but his long pass was just out of the reach for the competition’s leading try scorer.
In the 75th minute Mbye sealed the deal with a field goal but the Bulldogs were far from done, with Kasiano diving over from dummy half in the 76th minute. Hodkinson, back on the field for the tireless Lichaa, converted for 29-16.
Seventy points and two wins in their past two matches. Proud to be a Bulldog!
Bulldogs are hosted by the Gold Coast Titans next Sunday at Cbus Super Stadium with kick-off 4pm local time.
BULLDOGS 29 (Rona, J.Morris, Mbye, Browne, Kasiano Tries; Hodkinson 2, Mbye 2 Goals; Mbye 1 Field Goal) def. DRAGONS 16 (Widdop 2, Mata’utia Tries; Widdop 2 Goals)
At: ANZ Stadium