A superb performance from Titans playmaker Ash Taylor has guided his side to seventh on the Telstra Premiership ladder with a commanding 34-6 win over Canterbury at Suncorp Stadium on Monday night.
Taylor stepped up in the absence of regular halves partner Jamal Fogarty (finger injury) with rookie Toby Sexton again impressive in his second NRL game.
That will give coach Justin Holbrook a headache next week with Fogarty set to be available but no guarantee of an immediate recall.
"He'll be fit, I'm not too sure (if he'll play)," Holbrook said.
"I'm really happy with the way Toby's played, I'll have to have a think about that."
Taylor set the tone with an early 40/20 and pulled the strings well throughout, teasing the Canterbury defence apart with well-selected passes and kicks, setting up one try and scoring another.
Match: Bulldogs v Titans
Round 20 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
The Bulldogs seem all-but assured of collecting their first wooden spoon since 2008 after another performance featuring plenty of effort but little attacking execution.
The Dogs held off an early raid set up by Taylor's 40/20 but soon cracked as an Esan Marsters line break boosted the Titans in range and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui picked it up from dummy-half to crash through some feeble goal-line defence.
David Fifita was again asked to start from the bench and made an immediate impact when injected after 23 minutes but couldn't help himself when in a bit of space near the line and gave away a double movement penalty trying to score.
No-try notwithstanding, his energy off the bench could see him continue in that role.
Taylor starts and finishes another Titans try
"There's no need to worry about 80 minutes, especially for back-rowers now," Holbrook said.
"All the middles get interchanged due to the game being faster and we don't need him to play 80.
"It has worked the last couple of weeks bringing him on, he's had a huge impact and working really hard for us so we're in a good spot at the minute with a good couple of wins and we have to keep that going."
Bailey Biondi-Odo added a bit of spark when brought on in the halves while Kyle Flanagan was taken for a HIA but his goal-line drop-out was nullified by Jayden Okunbor dropping the kick. It proved a turning point as the Titans scored at the end of that set, with a Moeaki Fotuaika line break finishing with Marsters touching down.
A piggy-back penalty from the very next set got the Titans back in range with Taylor's early grubber catching the Bulldogs backs off guard and Brian Kelly winning the race to the ball to make it 16-0 at the break.
The Dogs had a few attacking chances in the second half but weren't able to find points, with the Titans getting further ahead in the 53rd minute when Marsters knocked back a bomb which Aaron Schoupp fumbled with Greg Marzhew gleefully cleaning up the scraps.
Wallace with a wonder ball for Kelly to get a double
Taylor jumped out of dummy half and fed AJ Brimson through a gap then backed up himself for a well-earned try and a daunting 28-0 lead with 20 minutes to play.
A superb run and no-look offload from Jarrod Wallace helped Kelly cross untouched for his second before Biondi-Odo finally got his side on the board when he burrowed over from dummy-half with eight minutes remaining.
The result lifts the Titans into seventh place and will finish the round inside the top eight even if Cronulla upset Manly with their fate now firmly in their own hands.
"It's a great position we've got ourselves in due to the last couple of wins so moving forward we're in with a chance," Holbrook said.
"I felt a real change a couple of weeks ago, everybody's training harder, lifting our standards.
Biondi-Odo burrows over
"We've got some good memories of a good run we had last year. There's some similarities about it this year and we've just got to keep being adaptable to whatever happens, change the game, change of venue, being accountable for how we play and we did a great job of that tonight."
Bulldog Jack Hetherington's poor judiciary record could count against him if a dangerous tackle that was placed on report draws a charge from the match review committee.