The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs charged towards the semi-finals after a dominant 32-18 victory over South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Bulldogs were as per the program which saw Damien Cook start at hooker for Michael Lichaa, who requires season-ending surgery on his right ankle after being tackled awkwardly in last week’s win over Titans.
It was evident from the first set of six that Bulldogs were on their game. There was the whiff of September in the air and Des Hasler’s men stormed to a 22-0 half-time lead, before seeing the match out to win comfortably 32-18.
A Frank Pritchard error and a penalty gave Souths an early chance to post points but a Greg Inglis cut out skidded into touch, relieving the pressure. Sam Perrett soon after had a half chance in the 8th minute, having stolen the ball off Bryson Goodwin, only for his attempted offload to spill forward.
It was Cook who opened the scoring after collecting an offload from Pritchard on Souths’ line to dive over untouched. Hodkinson nailed the two for 6-0 in the 12th minute.
Bulldogs were gifted the chance to take the two when Inglis was penalised right in front of his own posts for a hand on the ball but Bulldogs rolled the dice, taking the tap and were rewarded after Hodkinson threw a beautiful floating cut out pass to Perrett. Hodkinson added the extras for 12-0 in the 19th minute.
Brett Morris collected his side’s third of the night in the 29th minute after Rona dumped the ball back inside as he was being pushed into touch, to find Pritchard whose flick pass found the fleet-footed fullback in enough space for him to accelerate through to score. Hodkinson converted for 18-0.
A series of repeat sets around the 30 minute mark gave Souths the chance to hit back but strong defence eventually forced an error from Tom Burgess. There was more pressure to be absorbed soon after with Souths camped on Bulldog’s line again but the blue and white wall stood tall once more, forcing an error from Alex Johnston this time.
With only a few seconds left on the clock, Hodkinson snapped a field goal attempt but it was charged down. The loose ball was chased down by Cook who toed it through to the in goal before miraculously tapping the ball back in field for a waiting Perrett. Hodkinson failed to convert to leave it 22-0 at the break. What a first forty from the dummy half!
Bulldogs came close a couple of times early in the second half but it was Souths who scored first via a well-placed John Sutton chip for Goodwin. It was on the back of a contentious call with Brett Morris ruled to have put his foot on the dead ball line in the set prior, which resulted in a drop out. Reynolds converted from the sideline for 22-6 in the 52nd minute.
Rona was at his brilliant best in the 59th minute, finishing a backline movement in his customary manner. It was try number 20 of the season for the best finisher in the game. It was on the back of a lovely pass from Shaun Lane. Hodkisnon pulled his conversion to the left for 26-6.
Johnston got one back for Souths in the 64th minute, crawling his way over down the right edge after Inglis had found space. Reynolds again nailed it from the sideline for 26-12.
The tit-for-tat continued with Lane there to pick up a loose ball which was knocked down by Perrett from a Hodkinson bomb. Inglis, limping heavily with a knee injury, was helped off the field immediately afterwards. Hodkinson collected the two for 32-12 in the 69th minute.
The score line made no difference to Klemmer who charged back into the Rabbitohs’ line from the subsequent kick-off, after which legendary caller Ray Warren labelled him the “Toongabbie Terror”.
Rabbitohs forward Jason Clark collected a sloppy consolation in the 75th minute, diving over from dummy half. Reynolds slotted the two for 32-18. And that’s the way it stayed.
Cook was outstanding, racking up 46 tackles while James Graham (19 hitups for 147m and 35 tackles) and Klemmer (16 hitups for 156m and 33 tackles) led from the engine room. Brett Morris had 15 runs for 142m and 10 breaks. Proud to be a Bulldog!
Bulldogs look to continue their surge to the semi-finals next Saturday night, facing Newcastle Knights at Hunter Stadium. Kick-off 5:30pm local time.
BULLDOGS 32 (Perrett 2, Cook, B.Morris, Rona, Lane Tries; Hodkinson 4 Goals) def. RABBITOHS 18 (Goodwin, Johnston, Clark Tries; Reynolds 3 Goals)
At: ANZ Stadium