The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have sealed a preliminary finals berth with a 32-14 victory over Illawarra, overcoming a slow start to ensure the Intrust Super Premiership NSW will have new premiers in 2017.
With both sides' NRL affiliates absent from the finals, they enjoyed the rare luxury of virtually unchanged line-ups. Siliva Havili was the only inclusion for Illawarra while the Bulldogs were 1-17, with all hands on deck to keep their respective seasons alive.
The afternoon started poorly for Illawarra as Jai Field dropped the kick-off, but they managed to defend their tryline early. When the defending premiers got their first chance to attack they forced a repeat set, coming up with points in the second opportunity. Patrick Herbert was the man to open the scoring off a fine pass from Field, who failed to convert for a 4-0 scoreline.
As the Bulldogs enjoyed back-to-back penalties, they looked dangerous; Tyrone Phillips and Craig Garvey both went within millimetres of scoring, but a knock-on soon brought them undone. With Illawarra back on the attack, Jai Field was well and truly making amends for two key errors; the livewire five-eighth split the defence on the western touchline to advance further upfield, before the follow-up play went left to Izaac Thompson. The winger took a good cutout ball to score Illawarra's second, unconverted again for an 8-0 advantage.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 32 (B Abbey 2, T Phillips, T Carr, L Lewis tries; R Martin 6 goals) def Illawarra 14 (P Herbert, I Thompson, J Pereira tries; J Field goal)