The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have come away with a nail-biting 24-22 victory over the Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles, narrowly escaping after a tit-for-tat contest at Brookvale's McGrath Foundation Stadium.
Following a second one-point loss to the Dragons in Round 21, the Bulldogs proved their determination in closing out a tight victory. Despite a shaky start which saw the attack stall on multiple occasions, the Josh Cleeland-led Bulldogs clicked into gear for a more successful second half.
Match: Sea Eagles v Bulldogs
Round 22 -
A host of late changes featured for both sides, with Bulldogs rookie Brandon Wakeham earning a second call-up to the halves, squaring off against Blacktown debutant Luke Metcalf. Zac Cardassilaris and Francis Tualau were also included on the visitors' bench, while Vai Toutai, Lloyd Perrett, FJ Muala and new Sea Eagle Dean Matterson came into the home side.
An early Blacktown knock-on handed Canterbury-Bankstown a welcomed period of good field position, but a pair of Josh Cleeland kicks were unable to build pressure in the opening stages. When the Sea Eagles got their chance, they earned a penalty - former Bulldog Perrett was stripped close to the line - before sending the ball wide for Maliko Filino to score in the south-east corner.
Despite having ample opportunity to post points, the Bulldogs were unable to do so - and when Lachlan Burr was sin-binned for impeding a quick tap from an offside position, things went from bad to worse. The ensuing Sea Eagles set saw them held up over the line twice and come up short on another occasion, before a fumble in defence from Cleeland gave them another repeat set.
In the 20th minute, a second right-to-left movement proved successful; Filino, running out of space on the eastern touch line, popped the ball up for a flying Tevita Funa to score. Having improved his position, Funa converted his own try for a 10-0 lead.
A pair of mistakes from Wakeham - first losing possession over the line, before a poorly-timed pass for Francis Tualau brought an error - proved costly, and the Bulldogs were still unable to make the most of an extended period with the ball. The Sea Eagles kept coming and while Lewis Brown looked to create opportunities, the defence held strong.
With seven minutes remaining in the half, a fine play from Tom Carr finally broke the deadlock. Catching the Blacktown defence off guard, the fleet-footed winger ran more than 50 metres through the middle of the field to score, easily converted by Cleeland. It ensured a 10-6 half-time scoreline.
The second half began in a similar style to the first, with the Bulldogs enjoying good field position - but this time, they eventually found themselves crossing for a well-earned try. A flying Asipeli Fine was impossible to stop one-on-one and levelled scores, before Cleeland converted to give his side the lead.
Next it was the Sea Eagles' turn to attack, but when Tyler Cassel lost the ball in-goal, a chance went begging. Desperation in defence from Metcalf would soon earn the home side an unexpected long-range try, however, when the debutant got in front of a Cleeland attacking grubber before chasing it down and running 70 metres to score his side's third.
An error from Carr threatened to gift the Sea Eagles another chance to score, but when an attacking play came unstuck, he would soon come up with another big play to retain the lead. After a strong Bulldogs set, Cleeland looked to his winger with a high cross-field kick, expertly taken by Carr to touch down in the south-western corner. Cleeland's conversion was equally impressive, pushing the visitors two points in front.
The back-and-forth nature of the game was set to continue, with the Sea Eagles coming up with more points through Jade Anderson. The recently-named fullback was the beneficiary of a clever inside grubber from the man wearing the No.1 jersey, Tom Wright.
Blacktown were unable to continue to apply pressure after points, however, with the mistake coming from the restart; it was allowed to trail dead in-goal, and a lifting tackle on Jayden Okunbor in the ensuing set gave Canterbury-Bankstown a golden opportunity. It would be Cerruto to slice through at pace, Cleeland once again converting for a 24-22 score line with five minutes remaining.
A frantic final period followed, with the Sea Eagles throwing the ball around on multiple occasions. A Tevita Funa line-break and grubber looked promising at the death, but the Bulldogs held on to win 24-22.