The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs dominated the Manly Sea Eagles from the outset to record a 28-16 victory.
Josh Morris (ankle) and Tim Browne (concussion) were both ruled out of the Round 7 fixture with young forwards Danny Fualalo and Herman Ese’ese making their first grade debuts from the bench. This saw Moses Mbye move from sub to centre and Antonio Kaufusi line up alongside skipper Aiden Tolman in the starting front row.
There was also a big late out for Manly with five-eighth Kieran Foran succumbing to a hamstring injury, with Jamie Lyon forced to shift to the halves.
Bulldogs, short on troops after a run of injuries and suspensions, rallied to beat a galvanised Manly side with fresh rumours circulating that Daly Cherry-Evans wants to stay at the club. The Bulldogs ran in six tries to three which included a double to Curtis Rona and three assists to Josh Reynolds. The debuts of Fualalo and Ese’ese will also have fans excited for the future.
It was a dream start for the Bulldogs with strong defence forcing an error from Willie Mason in the first tackle of the match. From the subsequent scrum, a Josh Reynolds cut out found Curtis Rona unmarked to score in the corner. Only 61 seconds had gone! Trent Hodkinson was unsuccessful with his conversion, leaving it 4-0.
Bulldogs doubled their advantage in the 6th minute via Chase Stanley. Reynolds was again in the thick of it giving Stanley enough room to slice through down the right edge. Hodkinson made no mistake this time, slotting over the extras from the sideline for a 10-0 lead.
Greg Eastwood split Manly up the middle (pictured) in the 11th minute and drew in Peta Hiku to send Reynolds clear but he was hauled down 20m out. Manly scrambled well to turn the Bulldogs away empty-handed.
A rampant Bulldog outfit came close again to a third try, in the 17th minute, but Tolman was ruled to have been held up by the video referee.
In the 28th minute, against the run of play, Cherry-Evans posted Manly’s first points, picking up a ricocheted grubber he kicked himself to score under the posts. Lyon converted to cut the deficit to four.
A solid hit from Hodkinson in the 32nd minute forced David Williams, who was making his first appearance of the year for Manly, to drop the ball 15m from his line. Bulldogs failed to capitalise though.
There were a couple of near misses for the Bulldogs as the first half drew to a close with Reynolds crossing but referees called it back for a forward pass before a deft kick from Hodkinson with only two minutes remaining just evaded Rona’s outstretched hands.
The last play of the first forty minutes saw Manly awarded a penalty deep in Bulldog’s territory and Lyon opted to take the two, which saw the teams head to the sheds at 10-8. Not a fair reflection of the Bulldog’s dominance.
It was Manly that struck the first blow in the second half with Hiku getting to the outside of Stanley to slide over in the corner. Lyon had his conversion attampt waved away. Manly led 12-10 in the 49th minute.
Manly didn’t lead for long though with sharp work from Frank Pritchard from dummy half setting Mbye free in the 52nd minute. Pritchard followed through himself in support and was rewarded with a try under the sticks. Hodkinson slotted the extras for a 16-12 score line.
Rona collected his second try of the night, and eighth of the season, in the 57th minute finishing off a backline movement assisted again by Reynolds. Hodkinson failed to convert leaving it 20-12.
Bulldogs went 90m to score their fifth of the match in the 66th minute, with the ball going through several sets of hands before Mbye broke a last-ditch tackle from Cherry-Evans to cross in the corner. Hodkinson missed the kick to leave it 24-12.
Manly hit back in bizarre circumstances soon after with a Lyon bomb striking the cross bar and bouncing fortuitously back to him before he shifted the ball left for Steve Matai to score. Lyon failed to convert, leaving the score 24-16 with 10 minutes remaining.
Corey Thompson got his name on the sheet with three minutes left on the clock, benefiting from quick hands in a backline movement. Hodkinson struck the post, leaving things 28-16. And that’s the way it remained until the siren sounded.
BULLDOGS 28 (Rona 2, Stanley, Pritchard, Mbye, Thompson Tries; Hodkinson 2 Goals) def. MANLY 16 (Cherry-Evans, Hiku, Matai; Lyon 2 Goals)
At: ANZ Stadium