The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs defeated the Roosters 9-8 in a war of attrition in front of 12,854 fans at Allianz Stadium.
Co-captain Frank Pritchard failed to recover from the ankle injury which forced him from the field last week against the Melbourne Storm and was replaced by Josh Jackson in the second row. Greg Eastwood made his first appearance of the season filling the vacant bench spot.
Bulldogs went into their Round 5 fixture on top of the rankings in both attack and defence and after breaking away to an early 8-0 lead, looked set to maintain their records. Roosters, however, clawed their way back into the contest by half time. In the end, a field goal from Josh Reynolds late in a tense second half was all that separated the two sides.
A light drizzle of rain greeted the players as they ran out onto the pitch and from the offset it was evident points would be hard to come by. It was the Roosters who went closest to scoring the opening stages of the match with hooker Jake Friend denied a try by the video referee in the 5th minute.
Tony Williams sprung to life soon after, bounding across the field before off-loading. The pass was knocked down by the Roosters giving Bulldogs a repeat set and the opportunity to post the game’s first points. Chase Stanley slid over in the corner in the 11th minute after a well-executed backline move. Trent Hodkinson’s golden run with the boot continued, knocking over the conversion from the sideline to make the score 6-0. That made it 18 successful conversions from 20 this season.
Bulldogs had all the momentum in the opening 20 minutes and an error from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck off a Hodkinson bomb saw the Bulldogs gifted an opportunity to extend their lead. A penalty next to the posts saw captain Michael Ennis point to the sticks and Hodkinson made no mistake stretching the lead to 8-0 in the 21st minute.
A run of penalties and errors riddled the following 10 minutes with both sides failing to handle the slippery conditions. It did give the Bulldogs another chance to show their strong defensive hand again though, highlighted by a try-saving Sam Perrett tackle in the 29th minute when the Roosters looked certain to score.
The Bulldogs’ defence was finally breached in the 32nd minute when their right-hand side was caught short in numbers and quick hands saw Michael Jennings cross. Maloney added the two to make the score 8-6.
In the 37th minute Perrett forced a pass close to his line turning the ball over. From the subsequent tackle, Roosters were awarded a penalty and opted for the two. Maloney levelled the scores at 8-8.
The two sides went to the break locked up setting up a titanic second 40 minutes. It was another big first half effort from James Graham who again led the way for the Bulldogs’ pack making 11 runs (for 96m) and 22 tackles. Dale Finucane was also strong in making 6 runs (for 58m) and 12 tackles.
The opening minutes of the second half was littered with poor handling from both teams. A double substitution in the 47th minute saw the fresh legs of both Greg Eastwood and David Klemmer join the contest.
A penalty in the 56th minute gave Roosters possession deep into Bulldogs territory. Roosters spread the ball quickly on the first tackle only for a last-ditch effort from Reynolds forcing Daniel Tupou’s knee to touch the sideline before he grounded the ball.
Bulldogs went close to breaking the deadlock in the 62nd minute after Josh Morris poked a kick through the line. Hodkinson picked up the loose ball and grubbered through for Eastwood but Anthony Minichiello recovered in time.
Roosters camped inside the Bulldogs' 10 metres for back-to-back sets in the 68th minute but the Bulldogs’ defence simply refused to crack. In the midst of all that, Stanley suffered a dislocated shoulder which forced Jackson to centre and Tim Lafai to the wing.
Bulldogs not long after, marched up the field themselves and Reynolds slotted a field goal to make the score 9-8 in the 70th minute.
Roosters winger Tupou was put into open space in the 76th minute, sprinting down the touch line but Maloney fumbled Tupou’s inside pass as the cover defence began to arrive. That was the ball game with Bulldogs holding on for a hard-earned 9-8 victory.
BULLDOGS 9 (Stanley Tries; Hodkinson 2 Goals; Reynolds 1 Field Goal) def. ROOSTERS 8 (Jennings Tries; Maloney 2 Goals)
At: Allianz Stadium