Bulldogs down Dolphins to win Intrust Super Championship
The Bulldogs have run away with a commanding 42-18 win over the Redcliffe Dolphins in the Intrust Super Premiership on the back of forward firepower and some Josh Cleeland magic.
The Dolphins were their own worst enemies for much of the game, bombing plenty of attacking chances and handing the Dogs way too many of their own through errors and penalties.
Canterbury asserted their dominance through their bigger forward pack with Renouf To'omaga, Francis Tualau, Greg Eastwood and Ofahiki Ogden all producing powerful stints and Rhyse Martin continuing on his merry point-scoring ways.
The Dolphins also had their share of bad luck with first half injuries to back-rower Toby Rudolf and hooker Jake Turpin testing their depth and stamina. Young Broncos centre Kotoni Staggs was a class above, scoring his side's first 12 points.
Martin opened the scoring in just the sixth minute, hitting a nice Nu Brown flat ball at pace to burst pass Dolphins half Cam Cullen to score next to the sticks.
After a 25-minute period in which Redcliffe looked far more dangerous but brought themselves unstuck too often on their attacking chances, the deadlock was broken by another point-scoring sensation.
Broncos centre Kotoni Staggs, the leading scorer in the Intrust Super Cup this year, hit a nice short ball from Cullen to go over untouched in the 30th minute. Like Martin before him, he converted his own four-pointer to level the scores.
Redcliffe produced another piece or two of dazzling play without further impact on the scoreboard before a brilliant scoot from dummy half by Zac Woolford split the Dolphins defence up the middle and created a try for Cleeland just four minutes before the break.
Cleeland's attacking instincts were a big part of Ipswich's success in their charge to – and victory in – the corresponding 2015 fixture against Newcastle and earned him his first NRL contract, and those skills were on full display moments later.
The 27-year-old half had a two-minute double when he supported a Renouf To'omaga charge and offload from the very next set, running 60 metres to finish a killer double blow and earn his side a 16-6 half-time advantage.
The Dolphins suffered their third injury blow of the game, with hooker Jake Turpin taken off at half-time following second-rowers Toby Rudolf (ACL) and Myles Taueli (hip) both going off in the first half, though Taueli was able to return in the second stanza.
The Dogs went further in front in the 47th minute when Chris Smith – filling in at right centre due to a first half suspected broken jaw to winger Josh Bergamin – burrowed his way over.
Redcliffe continued to make life hard for themselves through errors and penalties and more pressure took its toll when the impressive To'omaga powered his way over under the crossbar to push the score out to 28-6 with 27 to play.
A Martin penalty goal shortly after stretched the difference to four converted tries.
Match: Bulldogs v Dolphins
State Championship Final -
Venue: ANZ Stadium
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Staggs bagged his team's second when he swept on a loose Nu Brown pass with the Dogs on the attack to streak 80 metres and score and keep his team's very faint hopes alive at 30-12 with 20 to play.
Jayden Okunbor's try on the left flank in the 72nd minute, cashing in on a powerful To'omaga charge and offload, snuffed the last of Redliffe's hopes out. Departing Dogs veteran Eastwood was handed a sentimental kick at goal and curled the sideline chance back inside the right upright as if he'd been doing it his whole career.
James Taylor's late consolation try added a bit of respectability to the score for the Dolphins but some Nu Brown cheekiness helped the Dogs to one last laugh, calling for an offload from Jamil Hopoate as the former Sea Eagles tried to escape from his own in-goal and touching down for a gift four-pointer and sealing the 42-18 result.
News & Notes ... Bulldogs fullback Mason Cerruto won his second consecutive state championship after winning with Penrith last year ... his teammate Josh Cleeland also has two wins in the fixture after winning with Ipswich in 2015 ... Redcliffe lost Sharks-bound second-rower Toby Rudolph to a knee injury in the first half and hooker Jake Turpin to a calf strain at half-time ... The Bulldogs were also struck a blow with winger Josh Bergamin suffering a suspected broken jaw in the first half.