ROUND 10: Gold Coast Titans v. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (Cbus Super Stadium, 18/5/19)

Gold Coast and Canterbury only had four wins between them when they met at Cbus on Saturday afternoon, making it a bit of a desperate match, and a frustrating home defeat for the Titans when they came away with a six point loss. This marked the first time Tyrone Roberts and Ash Taylor were back together since Round 1, but their presence was offset by the absence of two of the Titans’ biggest men in Ryan James and Shannon Boyd, making it critical that the home team make a big statement early on, especially since Kieran Foran was back for the Bulldogs in his second game since returning from his ankle injury.

Dylan Napa took the first and fourth tackles, and made some good metres, but lost the ball on the Bulldogs’ second set due to a big hit from Brian Kelly, putting the Titans in prime attacking position two minutes in. Canterbury had showcased their defence on the Titans’ first set, and kept them within their own forty, but they couldn’t defy them here, as Jai Arrow danced across the ruck to the left edge, where he shifted it to Kelly, who sent a short pass for Dale Copley to cross over for the first four points of the day. Taylor set up his fifth shot at goal this season, and slotted it through from the sideline, bringing his team to more than a point a minute.

Two tackles later, Napa followed the first error of the game with the first penalty of the game – a high tackle on Jack Stockwell – but a messy offload sapped some of the Titans’ momentum, before Josh Jackson made a terrific tackle on Jarrod Wallace that slowed their progress further. A harbor bridge pass from AJ Brimson found Anthony Don trapped on the right edge, forcing the cult winger to start a rapid sweep back to the left instead, but Gold Coast still got a repeat set, and then a penalty in front of the posts after a slow peel from Chris Smith, once again bringing them to more than a point per minute when Taylor sliced through a second goal.

The Titans were looking good enough to score on the restart – and almost did, thanks in part to Mitch Rein, who laid a fantastic platform with a near-break on the right edge before returning to the ruck for some big run metres. Arrow followed suit, and Roberts sent a big bomb Meaney’s way, before Will Hopoate lost the footy on the first tackle in the face of another low hit from Kelly, whose game had more than a touch of Jake Trbojevic about it this afternoon. Crowding from Jeremy Marshall-King followed soon after, but this time Gold Coast chose to tap and go, executing another superb left sweep that ended with a double for Dale Copley.

This time Copley had to burrow his head down and muscle through Cogger and JMK on the wing, but it was essentially the same try he’d scored the first time around. Full credit has to go to Rein, too, for the dummy half pass that defied four defenders, setting up an overlap that the Dogs were never able to recoup. Taylor now made it three from three, and once again the Titans had managed to score more than a point a minute, while Canterbury still hadn’t enjoyed a tackle in Gold Coast’s half. Rein took his running game up on the next set, and Kelly tried to add Meaney to Napa and Hoppa on his list of casualties, but the Bulldogs survived, and were just starting to build some momentum when the game was paused after Chris Smith took a knock.

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Eventually Smith was taken off for an HIA, and replaced with Ofahiki Ogden, and by the time the game restarted the Titans had completely regathered, with Rein putting big pressure on Cogger’s kick, and Tolman leaking an offside penalty on the first tackle of the next set. For a second time, Don couldn’t do much with a floating pass from Taylor, before Ogden knocked on Taylor’s kick, gifting the Titans the scrum feed right on their line. Gold Coast looked set to score then and there, possibly on a set play on the first tackle, so it was probably a letoff for the Bulldogs when Napa was penalised for a scrum infringement, limiting the damage to two points as Taylor got yet another opportunity to showcase his renewed kicking game.

The Dogs got a bit of luck a minute later, when two successive Gold Coast kicks – from Rein and Proctor – ricocheted off the defence with no call of six again from the refs. Canterbury then got their first penalty of the night on the next set, thanks to a slow peel from Wallace, before a Cogger grubber trapped AJ Brimson in goal for the first dropout of the game. This was the biggest chance so far for the Bulldogs, and for a moment they seemed to be consolidating, as Ogden took the first hit-up, Jackson and Foran tried to break through on the right and left edges respectively, Fualalo straightened the play in front of the posts, and Meaney glimpsed a huge hole, only to pass to JMK after fearing an obstruction on Jai Arrow.

From there JMK lost the footy, and Cogger was pinged for a ball strip on the very next tackle, but the Dogs got another burst of field position after the first Gold Coast error – from Brimson – and made the most of it – as Marcelo Montoya executed the best kick chase of the game to ground a Foran grubber in goal. It was a spectacular kick from Foran, pivoted between Taylor and Proctor just before they collided in the defensive line, and an even better putdown from Montoya, who collected the footy at speed, maintained his balance, and then planted it to ground, all in one rapid motion, despite a mass of Gold Coast jerseys pushing up on him from behind.

With Meaney adding the extras the deficit was narrowed to ten, before Cogger made the best individual effort of the game with a linebreak that saw him travel fifty metres up field before the Gold Coast defence finally reached him. Still, Cogger’s momentum and vision laid the platform for the next Canterbury try, which came off a parabolic pass from Foran to Jayden Okunbor, who collected the Steeden on the edge, accelerated off his left foot, got past Brimson, danced over a low tackle from Proctor, came to ground right behind the posts before Wallace could keep him in play, and then leapt up for one of the most exuberant try celebrations this season.

Okunbor’s excitement was more or less the last big spectacle of the first stanza, which petered out in a pair of errors from Montoya and Copley. The Titans got the first penalty of the second half, and the seventh of the match, after a slow peel from Montoya, but Foran managed to clean up Taylor’s kick after it ricocheted off his team mates, neutralizing this first burst of field position from Gold Coast, who probably would have scored if they’d managed to recover the football here. In retrospect, this changeover was one of the key moments in stemming the Titans flow of points in the back forty, even if Okunbor coughed up the ball shortly after.

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Moeiaki Fotuaika now spun out of a tackle from Jackson to break through the line, before Roberts kicked for Don, but Okunbor made up for his handling error by outjumping the wiry winger to collect the ball cleanly, as Roberts took out his frustration with a slow peel. Still, the Dogs struggled to consolidate, as a Cogger pass missed both Jackson and Meanry, forcing Reimis Smith to pick it up on the sideline, while Copley was able to secure a Cogger bomb pretty easily in the face of a fairly sluggish kick chase from the Canterbury forwards. The Dogs started their next set just outside the forty, thanks to a good catch and run from Meaney, but Foran’s chip didn’t ask too many questions on the left edge, and once again points went begging.

Taylor’s next kick ricocheted about fifteen metres back, giving the Bulldogs their best burst of the second half, and their quickest acceleration of field position, so it was disheartening to see Ogden lose it a couple of tackles later under some big pressure from Rein. It was hard to know who had the upper hand at this point, since there were only four points between the two teams, and, while the Dogs had reversed the possession differential of the first stanza, they hadn’t scored a point this half. You could equally say the Titans were showcasing their defence here, especially when they shut down the most threatening Cantebury sequence in a while – a sublime take under the highball from Okunbor followed by a scintillating linebreak from Corey Harawira-Naera.

Following this break, Foran dummied and ran on the fourth, before Cogger bombed again to the right edge, hoping that Okunbor would outplay Don once again, only for Hoppa to knock the footy forward, as Canterbury’s best period this stanza yielded nothing. For a short period, the Dogs ebbed, started with a set that began in their own ten, and proceeding through a pair of penalties from Sauaso Sue and JMK, for working on the ground and crowding respectively. Taylor now missed his first kick of the night, but the Titans still seemed to have the upper hand, especially once JMK got a second successive penalty for a panicky ball strip, and a Roberts kick trapped Ogden in goal for the first dropout of the second half, following a dazzling run across the ruck from Tyrone Peachey on the third tackle.

Okunbor didn’t make his best kick for the dropout, but the Dogs got a letoff when Taylor passed the Steeden straight back to Okunbor, who would have scored then and there if Brimson hadn’t chased him down for one of the best low tackles of the game. Still, this sudden turnaround seemed to spook Gold Coast, as Peachey responed with a dangerous tackle, and Max King followed up with a slow peel, before Okunbor completed his splendid acceleration by catching a harbor bridge pass from Foran to sail over on the left wing, after a massive effort from Ogden further infield had dragged in the Gold Coast defenders who should have been available to halt this rapid left sweep.

There was a brief question of whether Harawira-Naera had obstructed Rein, but the try was cleared, putting the Bulldogs two ahead once Meaney had added the extrs. They’d gone twenty minutes without points, but the spectacle of Okunbor scoring immediately returned Canterbury to the exuberance of his first try just before the break, culminating a particular prolific second half for their insatiable no. 2. With so much energy, they just needed an error from Gold Coast to score next – and they got it when Copley coughed up a Brimson pass on the brink of one of the Titans’ best tryscoring formations this half. While Reimis Smith sent a Hopoate kick into touch at the end of the next Canterbury set, Brian Kelly made the first of two critical handling errors during this second stanza that got the Bulldogs the football just as quickly.

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Cometh the hour cometh the man, and Cogger now headed into the right corner on the second tackle, where he dummied a couple of times, and almost seemed ready to kick, rotating every halfback option in his mind before slicing through Kelly and Roberts to score himself. So decisive and confident was this gesture that it seemed to guarantee the game to Canterbury, despite the fact that they were only six ahead after Meaney’s kick bounced off the left uprights. Nevertheless, the last ten minutes were an absolute nail-biter, starting with a handling error from Reimis Smith that was followed by a second handling error from Kelly right when the Titans should have scored the converted try that would have taken them into golden point.

Next, Wallace charged down a Foran kick, collected it, and headed for the right corner, but didn’t have the speed to prevent Reimis Smith and Okunbor from bringing him to ground. Even then, a quick play-the-ball would have put the Titans in prime scoring position, but Wallace knocked on the Steeden while offloading to Jesse Arthars, who crashed over the line without scoring a point. Finally, Fualalo lost the footy on the next set into a low tackle from Jai Arrow, and Kelly was almost away, only for the play to be called back, marking the end of an agonising to-and-fro that prevented the Bulldogs ever getting in position to attempt the field goal that would have put golden point to bed had the Titans scored here.

These kinds of agonising, hard-won games always have a heightened emotional result for both teams, so the Dogs will be hungry for another win when they host the Storm next week, and will be looking to dig deep into Belmore vibes to try and recapture the rhythm they showcased against the Titans here. On the other side of the Steeden, this was probably the most disappointing loss of the season for Gold Coast – certainly the most disappointing home loss – so they’ll be looking to regather and reassess before they travel to Brookvale to take on the Sea Eagles for the second match of Indigenous Round on Friday evening.

About Billy Stevenson (751 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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