Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs piled on the points in the second half to defeat Gold Coast Titans 36-14 on the Central Coast.
Aiden Tolman withdrew with a reoccurrence of a hamstring injury. This saw Sam Kasiano start alongside skipper James Graham in the front row with Llyod Perrett added to the bench. Greg Eastwood returned after serving his week’s suspension and Michael Lichaa took his place after recovering from a knee injury.
With finals footy on the line, Bulldogs found their groove late in the match to defeat Titans 36-14. It was a scrappy opening, not helped by losing Lichaa to an ankle injury very early, but doubles to Curtis Rona, Brett Morris and Greg Eastwood as well as a late David Klemmer try, saw Bulldogs run out emphatic winners.
Blue skies greeted the players as they ran out in front of an 11,000-strong crowd but poor handling littered the opening period and that was compounded by Lichaa hobbling off after just four minutes. When he reappeared from the sheds he was in a moon boot. Josh Jackson took over dummy half duties.
With seven minutes gone, the match sparked into life with Aidan Sezer intercepting after Bulldogs were on the attack but the lightning legs of Moses Mbye mowed him down.
Brett Morris slammed the ball down in the 14th minute, capitalising on a Titan’s error, to draw first blood. Trent Hodkinson converted from the sideline for 6-0.
Titans forward Agnatius Paasi was placed on report for a nasty in-the-air tackle on Brett Morris in the 20th minute.
Curtis Rona intercepted a pass from James Roberts, who was flirting with the sideline, just 10m out to collect an opportunistic try. Hodkinson made no mistake for 12-0 in the 27th minute.
Titans struck back in the 32nd minute after Sezer kicked in behind Sam Perrett for Kalifa Faifai Loa to collect four-pointer. Sezer failed to convert for 12-4.
Hodkinson fluffed a try in the 38th minute, with his toe through from a Tim Lafai grubber skewing right with the try line open. 12-4 at the break.
Josh Morris was held up in 45th minute but there was no denying Eastwood who chased through a Hodkinson grubber to extend the lead in the 54th minute. Hodkinson failed to convert for 16-4.
James Roberts produced blinding burst of speed to get Titans back in the hunt, scoring under the posts in the 59thminute. With Sezer off the field injured, Greg Bird collected the two for 16-10.
Not to be shown up, Brett Morris then produced his customary dash having collected a short ball from Kasiano to slice through in the 62nd minute. Hodkinson nailed the extras to re-establish a 12-point lead.
Rona collected his double in the 67th minute, diving over in the corner after quick hands found Titans short. Hodkinson’s conversion attempt was waved away to leave it 26-10.
In the 72nd minute Eastwood finished off a brilliant try that took supporters back to the days of The Entertainers! Hodkinson chipped for Sam Perrett who passed back inside finding Lafai who in turn found Eastwood. Try of the year contender! It was on the back of an earlier break from Rona. Hodkinson’s radar was off to leave it 30-10.
David Klemmer crossed for his first try of the season in the 78th minute courtesy of a Tim Browne offload. Hodkinson added the two for 36-10.
Faifai Loa showed terrific athleticism to cross in the corner with only seconds left on the clock to grab a late consolation. Bird failed to convert for a 36-14 final score.
BULLDOGS 36 (B.Morris 2, Rona 2, Eastwood 2, Klemmer Tries; Hodkinson 4 Goals) def. TITANS 14 (Faifai Loa 2, Roberts Tries; Bird 1 Goal)
At: Central Coast Stadium, Gosford