ROUND 6: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v. South Sydney Rabbitohs (ANZ Stadium, 19/4/19)
The Bulldogs hosted the Rabbitohs for a low-scoring game on Good Friday, only managing to put down a single try in the opening minutes of the match. With Sam Burgess now the permanent South Sydney captain in the wake of Greg Inglis’ retirement, the cardinal and myrtle seemed particularly committed to getting five and one to start the season for the first time in a number of years, even if they only managed to score a pair of four-pointers themselves by the final siren.
Adam Elliott gave away the first penalty of the night with a slow peel on the first set, and Sam Burgess followed up with a big hit-up, before Tom Burgess barraged into the defence on the other side of the park. A spectacular series of passes now ensued that saw Souths bring the footy to the right wing and then back to the centre of the field, all on the third tackle, before a harbour bridge pass from Cody Walker over Will Hopoate and Reimis Smith set up Campbell Graham to score two minutes in.
This was yet another argument for Walker for Blues five-eighth, getting the Rabbits a six point lead after Adam Reynolds nailed the conversion. Both teams now went set for set for a few minutes, and while the Bunnies started with the competitive edge, the Bulldogs started to gradually fight back, culminating with a superb low tackle from Corey Harawira-Naera on Alex Johnston at about the seven minute mark. A set later, Cameron Murray gave away the second penalty – offside – to provide the Dogs with their first real attacking opportunity of the evening so far.
Canterbury consolidated immediately, with Elliott almost breaking through the line on the first tackle, and Aiden Tolman almost making it to the chalk on the second, before Jack Cogger concluded with an elusive, dangerous grubber to the left of the posts. Kerrod Holland slammed it to ground, but not without making contact with Dane Gagai on the way through, resulting in a penalty for holding back rather than an opportunity for the Bulldogs to level the scoreline.
To make matters worse, the blue and white fans in the crowd got some false hope when the Bunker went on to briefly examine Holland’s grounding, as if they’d cleared the contact with Gagai. This was a big letdown for a Canterbury outfit that have really struggled to score this season, but the Rabbitohs didn’t get much of a chance to capitalise on the shift in momentum, since Sam Burgess lost the Steeden into Lachlan Lewis’ knee at the very start of the next set.Embed from Getty Images
The Bunnies seemed spooked by this error, as Reynolds was now penalised for working on the ground, and Tom Burgess was pinged for a second effort on Ofahiki Ogden a minute later. Still buoyed up by Cogger and Holland’s combination a set before, the Dogs chose to tap and go instead of taking the two, starting with a high pass from Cogger to Josh Jackson, who played it rapidly within the ten.
Elliott couldn’t offload on the second tackle, but it didn’t matter, since Ofgden managed to cross over on the third off a Jeremy-Marshall King pass, targeting Damien Cook as the smallest man in his part of the defensive line, and bouncing away from Tom Burgess to put down the first four points for Canterbury – the first six points when Holland added the extras a minute later. Yet these would also be the last points that the Dogs scored, despite the fact that they seemed to be consolidating and self-correcting following on from Holland’s disappointment a few minutes before.
Ogden made the first hit-up on the restart, but followed with a cold drop that mirrored Burgess’ error at the start of the Bulldogs’ tryscoring sequence, before an offside penalty from Holland gifted the Bunnies another burst of field position. The two pointscorers for Canterbury had now conceded successive errors, but they got a letoff when Ogden recovered the footy and forced an offside penalty from Tom Burgess, in what was quickly becoming a star performance from the Bulldogs prop.
The Rabbits escalated further over the next five minutes, with Corey Allan making a linebreak, and Reynolds forcing a dropout, before booting through a penalty kick after a slow peel from JMK. Twenty-six minutes into the first stanza, they got their second and final try, on the back of a superb kick from Cook to Johnston that answered and surpassed Cogger’s linkup with Holland earlier in the match. Waiting until the Canterbury defence came all the way up, Cook curved the ball around Lewis to find his backliner, before Reyno added another kick to bring the Bunnies to 6-14.
These were the last points scored during the entire match, as both sides tried – and failed – to make a dent on the board over the next fifty-five minutes. John Sutton came close to breaking through eight minutes out from the siren, and milked a slow peel from Cogger, but the Bunnies didn’t build on it, executing some of their messiest plays on the left side of their attack that culminated with a Walker pass being knocked on by Kyle Turner.Embed from Getty Images
Yet the Rabbitohs got another chance when Jayden Okunbur put the ball down on the first tackle out of the scrum, building a steady accumulation of field position and possession that started with them securing their next dropout when Nick Meaney was forced to kick the football dead. Tempers flared between Sam Burgess and Rhyse Martin late in the tackle count, while a second encounter between the two players a tackle after meant that the adrenalin was peaking when Cogger was compelled to ground the footy in goal, giving Souths a second successive dropout.
Lewis kicked even further on the dropout, but it didn’t phase the visitors, who got a quick tap after Tolman was pinged for holding down on the first tackle. The Bunnies now had all the momentum, and it crystallised when Reynolds realised that he had space for a pitch perfect boot to the right edge, where Corey Allan gathered the Steeden on the full and slammed it to ground – just the silky communication, and the dexterous putdown, that the Bunnies needed to cement this opening stanza.
That just made it all the more deflating, then, when the replay showed that the space had only opened in front of Reynolds because of an obstruction from Liam Knight on Lachlan Lewis. If a try right on the halftime siren could have propelled South Sydney into a more focused and determined second forty, then this frustrated try seemed to rob them of the game they should have played – and neither team would score another point when they returned from the sheds.
The second stanza didn’t start well for the Bulldogs, thanks to an opening error from Chris Smith, and then a Reynolds grubber paired with a big defensive push from the Bunnies that drove Hopoate back in goal for yet another dropout. Hoppa’s capitulation was all the more frustrating for the Dogs in that he’d switched into the fullback role after the break, presumably to inject some old-school leadership into the team while Meaney was getting his finger stitched after an injury in the first half.
As with the last few minutes of that opening half, the Rabbitohs compounded their field position here, as Walker regathered a kick after it rebounded off the defence, and found the ball intercepted by Reimis Smith, but not without a knock-on from Chris Smith that got the Bunnies the ball once again. This was the perfect moment for a set play out of the scrum, but the Dogs doubled down on desperation defence, from a brilliant tackle from Okunbur on their left edge to a massive effort from Harawira-Naera and Reimis Smith on Johnston on their right edge.Embed from Getty Images
Cook was then cleaned up on the last, in a sudden shift in momentum that helped force a second effort from Walker – the right conditions for the Bulldogs to build. Instead, the home team put in a series of fairly standard hit-ups, before Lewis’ final kick was cleaned up matter-of-factly by Kyle Turner. By this stage, the game was becoming a comedy of errors, in which even the most flamboyant attacking opportunities were somehow fizzling out into messy and anticlimactic stuff-ups.
Two particularly dramatic opportunities now ensued, one for both team, and the way they played out spoke volumes about the calibre of the game at this point. First, Tolman charged down a Reynolds kick, taking the first tackle twelve metres out from the South Sydney line. In the biggest heartbreak so far for Canterbury, however, Holland mistimed his pass to Okunbur, setting up the wiry winger to watch the footy sail across his face just when the Bulldogs should have been really escalating.
Yet the Rabbits got their own frustrated moment shortly after, when Corey Allan made the linebreak of the night, running virtually the entire length of the field before being brought down five metres out from the chalk by a stellar chase and tackle from Reimis Smith. While Smith was pinged for holding down Campbell Graham along the way, this was still a major anticlimax for South Sydney, especially since the Dogs managed to hold up Murray before he could break through the line on the next set, before wrapping up Mark Nicholls on the cusp of second phase play.
The aftermath of Allan’s linebreak fizzled out when Martin intercepted a Sam Burgess pass thanks to some big pressure from Lewis, repeating the volatile triangle that ended the first half. You could tell that Burgess was frustrated, but the volatility didn’t seem to galvanise either side into a more disciplined and focused approach, as the game gradually devolved into each side building opportunities and attacking formations that they were unable to bring to fruition.
Both teams will be looking for more discipline and focus, then, when they rock up to Round 7, although the Bulldogs will be particularly keen for a good win when they host the Cowboys for another home game at ANZ Stadium. On the other side of the Steeden, this was a fairly spotty match for the Bunnies as well – hardly a convincing win – so they’ll be looking to flex their muscles when they travel to the foot of the mountains to take on a Penrith outfit galvanised by their four point loss to the Sharks on Thursday night.
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