It was the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs who proved too slippery for Parramatta Eels, running out 28-4 winners over their western Sydney rivals.
There was just the one change from last weekend’s side that went down to the Broncos, with Trent Hodkinson returning to the side at the expense of Moses Mbye who dropped off the five-man bench named on Tuesday.
It was a fitting way to kick off NRL’s Heritage Round as grudge matches don’t come much bigger than Bulldogs vs Eels. Who could forget the 1980s domination of the two sides? Turvey vs Sterlo? Or the come-from-behind 1998 grand final qualifier? The list goes on.
Conjuring memories of the low-scoring grand finals the two clubs fought out in 1984 (Canterbury 6-4) and 1986 (Parramatta 4-2), the first half of the match saw a score line of 6-4 but the second half exploded into action with Bulldogs romping away to win 28-4.
Junior Paulo was forced over the sideline in the first hitup of the match, after the giant Eels prop had fumbled the kick-off. From the ensuing set of six, a rebounded grubber on the last tackle found its way to Michael Lichaa before he put James Graham over untouched. However, Graham was penalised for offside and the try disallowed.
A string of soft penalties saw Eels camped on the Bulldog’s line for a period but their defence stood tall for the pressure to be released in the 12th minute.
Things opened up for Hodkinson in the 20th minute with the number seven fooling everyone with a clever dummy on the half-way line before sending Frank Pritchard clear to score next to the posts. Hodkinson added the extras for 6-0.
Parramatta struck back deep in the second half with Semi Radradra forcing his way over in the 37th minute on the back of two offloads. Chris Sandow failed to covert for 6-4. With that try, Radradra went to 17 for the season – one up on Curtis Rona.
In a clunky first half that never really got going, Bulldogs went to the break with a narrow 6-4 advantage, with their rushing defence causing Parramatta problems in attack.
Josh Jackson busted the Eels’ defence open in the 45th minute but was hauled down just short of the line. A penalty from the next tackle gave Bulldogs a full set to post first points in the second forty though. A Josh Reynolds kick was plucked out of the air by Pritchard who collected a double on the night. Hodkinson made no mistake with the conversion for 12-4. Sam Kasiano limped off with a leg injury and didn’t return.
Lightning quick hands from Bulldogs gave Sam Perrett room down the right and the wily winger angled back towards the middle before threading a pass to Jackson. Jackson stood up his defenders to collect a deserved four-pointer. Hodkinson slotted the two for an 18-4 lead in the 53rd minute.
Soon after, Parramatta fullback Corey Norman went off with a leg injury and Bulldogs sensed blood in the water. Reynolds split open the defence but Tim Lafai in support opted to back himself instead of passing to an unmarked Perrett on his outside. That was all forgotten in a matter of minutes though, with Brett Morris running 70m to score a brilliant solo try. Hodkinson added the extras for 24-4.
Another try went begging in the 74th minute with a Shaun Lane offload sending Brett Morris streaking clear again but a trailing Josh Morris fumbled the pass from his brother.
A win wouldn’t be complete without a spectacular Rona putdown and the winger delivered in the final minute of the match – which saw him level up with Radradra. Hodkinson’s conversion was waved away, leaving the final score 28-4.
BULLDOGS 28 (Pritchard 2, Jackson, B.Morris, Rona Tries; Hodkinson 4 Goals) def. Eels 4 (Radradra Tries)
At: ANZ Stadium