Bulldogs hold off fast-finishing Dragons
Canterbury survived a late St George Illawarra fightback to run out 28-20 winners at WIN Stadium in Wollongong on Friday night to move into second spot on the NRL ladder.
The Bulldogs were coasting when leading 28-6 shortly after halftime thanks to try doubles from Josh Reynolds and Josh Morris, but having shown little life over the opening 50 minutes the Dragons surged back to give the visitors a fright.
Three tries in the space of 15 minutes brought the Dragons to within eight points with 15 minutes remaining, although Jamie Soward’s missed conversion of Matt Cooper’s 65th-minute try kept the Bulldogs out of reach as the home side lost their fifth game in six matches.
The Bulldogs burst out of the gates with three tries in the opening quarter of the game and at 18-0 they were beating the clock.
As good as Canterbury were – with Sam Kasiano and Frank Pritchard’s size and skill causing all sort of problems – the Dragons did themselves no favours with all three tries coming on the back of penalties.
Krisnan Inu’s 17th-minute try, when Jason Nightingale had spilled a cross-field kick, came after Ben Hornby had sent his kick-off out on the full following Josh Morris’ try three minutes earlier.
The Dragons converted three straight penalties into a Kyle Stanley four-pointer, but their comeback copped a dagger on halftime when Dean Young – in his 200th game for the club – was stripped of the ball and Reynolds raced away for his second.
The home fans in the first game in Wollongong for 2012 had every reason to start making an early exit for the gates when Josh Morris crossed for his second four minutes after the restart, but they would have missed a spirited comeback.
It was as if the Dragons had decided with the game as good as gone to finally play some football – and with an emphasis on short passing around the ruck they started finding holes in the defensive line.
The comeback was sparked by Soward, whose clever kick on the chest of a flying Daniel Vidot started the surge in the 50th minute, and a turnaround in the penalty flow which went from 7-3 to the Bulldogs in the first half to end up 9-8 in the Dragons’ favour.
Despite setting up a top-of-the-table clash against Melbourne in Mackay next weekend, Bulldogs coach Des Hasler maintained the `flying under the radar’ mantra he owned when at Manly.
“There’s a yardstick and we’re probably at the bottom end of the yardstick,” Hasler said.
“We’re a young side, we’re still learning the game and we’re just trying to hang in there and stay with the big boys.”
Hasler even offered a baffling medical report on Pritchard, who was very groggy as he left the field after a head clash with teammate Kris Keating.
“He’s got just a twisted ankle,” he said.
“He was just a bit wobbly on his ankle so that’s why he was swaying from side to side.”
Dragons coach Steve Price bemoaned his side’s start.
“Yeah we showed credibility and we showed strength to claw back and have our opportunities to win the game, but you can’t do that at NRL level to start the game,” he said.© AAP 2013