Canterbury have another finals contender in their sights after a 20-14 upset of Newcastle at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night gave them consecutive wins for the first time this year.
Recovering from an 8-0 deficit with 22 minutes remaining, the Bulldogs scored three converted tries in 13 minutes then survived some nervous final moments to climb off the bottom of the ladder.
Having accounted for the sixth-placed Knights and ninth-placed Sharks in their past two games, the unfancied Bulldogs will aim for a third straight win against Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium next Thursday night.
“We’ve got a short turn-around going up to Brisbane so we want to turn around and get ourselves ready and give ourselves the best shot to make another result go our way,” Bulldogs coach Dean Pay told NRL.com after full-time.
“But to do that, we’ve got to make sure we get ourselves ready and prepare as well as we have the last couple of weeks.”
Pay said the Bulldogs have worked tirelessly on becoming a better defensive team, and were starting to be rewarded with on-field results.
Though the Knights dominated the ruck early on, the Bulldogs overcame the loss of middle forwards Sauaso Sue to a possible torn ACL and Aiden Tolman (ribs) to hold their own and finish on top. Pay praised mid-season recruit Dallin Watene-Zelezniak for giving the Dogs a voice at the back.
“We’ve been building all the time. We spoke about coming in after the bye and the break and making sure we put a lot of energy into our defence, and I thought we defended really well tonight,” he said.
“The first half, the first few rucks, we couldn’t control that as well as what we would have liked, but our scramble in our defence and our commitment to keep turning up for each other is getting better and better all the time.
“We’re defending our goal-line really well. Our middles are making their tackles, and Dallin’s doing a really good job for us at the back controlling our numbers, so we’ve been working really hard at it and you can see the improvements in it, so it’s getting better.”
Pay commended 20-year-old Fijian international Brandon Wakeham, who in only his second NRL game laid on two late tries for Corey Harawira-Naera and Reimis Smith, and 21-year-old former Knights halfback Jack Cogger.
“Those two kids, they’re the youngest halves pairing in the competition this weekend, and they did a really great job for us. Wakeham, that’s his second game,” Pay said.
“We keep talking about putting some time into our kids and giving them more footy, and they’re coming up, but we just need to keep going with them and we’ll keep getting better all the time.”