ROUND 13: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v. St. George-Illawarra Dragons (ANZ Stadium, 10/6/19)

The Dragons got forty against the Bulldogs in Round 5, but Canterbury-Bankstown had the first word on Monday night, clearly determined to quash the memory of having conceded ten times the number of points they scored last time they met St. George-Illawarra. A terrible opening set from the Red V, compounded by errors from Tariq Sims and Jonus Pearson, set the Dogs up for a fairly simple opening try, as Kieran Foran ran straight into the line, and popped a short ball across to Raymond Faitala-Mariner, who ploughed through a low tackle from Ben Hunt to score.

Over the next five minutes, Jack Cogger put in a couple of strong last-tackle options, but Hunt responded with a superb crossfield kick to the left corner about eight minutes in. Matt Dufty made up for not having stopped Faitala-Mariner after he’d gotten through Hunt by outplaying Will Hopoate under the football, which he sent out to the left edge. Only Reimis Smith prevented the Dragons scoring then and there, although he did so by making an error, which was quickly compounded by a hand in the ruck from Josh Jackson to give St. George some more field position.

They made the most of it too, as Hunt followed up the vision of his crossfield kick with a soaring harbor bridge pass to Mikaele Ravalawa out on the right wing. The ball travelled so far, but with such control and elegance, that this play was more than enough to reset the game in the Dragons’ favour, especially once Zac Lomax levelled the scored with a conversion from right in front of the posts. While the Bulldogs’ try had testified to their strength, these last six points had testified to the visitors’ organisation, which would serve them well over the rest of the game.

Five minutes later, the Red V executed one of their most organized and dexterous tries of the season so far. It started with a left sweep ten metres out from their own line, as Hunt and Norman shifted the footy across to Ravalawa, who was waiting for it on the wing. Although they were down the other end of the field, it had the confidence and focus of a short-range play, and sure enough Ravalawa broke through the line a moment later, eluding Marcelo Montoya before sending a bullet pass across Foran’s chest to Norman, who was waiting for the football on his inside.

From there, all that Norman had to do was cruise around to ground the Steeden behind the posts, setting up Lomax for his second straightforward conversion of the afternoon, and putting the Dragons a converted try ahead. Dylan Napa took out some of the Dogs’ frustration with a huge hit on Ravalawa twenty minutes in, on the first tackle, while taking a big hit on the next Canterbury set, before offloading to Smith for what initially looked like a bit of momentum, only for Adam Elliott to put down the football a second later in the midst of a tackle with Euan Aitken.

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An overlong kick from Hunt then got the Dogs a seven tackle set, and Jeremy Marshall-King followed up with a linebreak out of dummy half that got him to the ten metre line. Cogger completed the set with a terrific crossfield kick, especially given that he was absolutely floored by Tariq Sims just before making contact with the boot, but Pearson managed to catch the footy on the full in goal, getting the Dragons a seven tackle set of their own, while Cogger was sent off the field moments later for an HIA, forcing Rhyse Martin to trot on a bit earlier than he was expecting.

With JMK pinged for a ball strip, Canterbury’s desperation started to come to the fore again. There was a brief pause in the Dragons’ momentum as Norman conceded a tackle to avoid an obstruction play, but Cameron McInnes still managed to set up a dropout by grubbering the Steeden into Christian Crichton in goal. On the restart, the Red V consolidated into the same clinical elegance that had got them their second try, starting with Sims taking the first tackle, and smashing into Josh Jackson and Aiden Tolman,  showing he could be just as damaging in attack as in defence.

Sims’ big run laid the foundation for the next play – a rapid sweep to the left that saw the footy move through McInnes, Hunt and Norman, before Dufty shifted it out to Pearson, who added the final flourish with a left foot pivot to swivel back inside and away from Meaney to slam down his first four points as a Dragon. Lomax converted from the sideline as if he was right in front of the posts, booting the ball straight through the uprights without the slightest hint of a curve to put St. George twelve points ahead with a little over ten minutes left on the clock.

The Bulldogs had a brief chance at scoring a few minutes later on their right edge, once again due to a short ball from Foran, which found Martin in the corner. While the sharpshooter had managed to shift the footy across to Meaney to cross over, it turned out that Hopoate wasn’t in tight enough, and the try was called back. Surprisingly, however, the Dragons didn’t manage to make the most of this error, or the dejected Canterbury spirits, over the rest of the first stanza, leaving the score at 6-18 as the teams headed to the sheds.

The Dogs had the upper edge for a bit when they returned to the park, and briefly recaptured some of their opening edge. Apparently Paul McGregor had instructed his men to target JMK, and it was good advice, since the Canterbury hooker made a terrific kick about three minutes in, replete with a dangerous bounce that forced Lomax to wait until it was deep in the corner before he picked it up. Clearly nettled, Lomax missed Ravalawa with his first pass attempt, regathering the Steeden himself before opting for a hospital pass to Dufty in an attempt to gain some headway.

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While the Dragons regathered in a few minutes, both teams opted for risk-free football for a couple of sets, focusing on completing their tackles rather than opting for flamboyant playmaking. Slowly but surely, however, the Dogs started to lag, starting with an offload from Smith that was put down by Tolman, and followed by a kick out on the full from JMK on the next Canterbury set. At the start of the set after that, JMK passed the football forward to Hopoate, thanks in part to a touch from Jackson, and it wasn’t long before Meaney was forced to boot through a dropout.

Tariq Sims now stepped up once again, making a barnstorming run at the line to the left of the posts on the second tackle. He didn’t quite make it to the chalk, but he drew in enough of the Bulldogs’ defence to leave some space open on the right edge. Receiving the footy from Norman, Hunt seemed to consider shifting it to the right for the briefest of moments, before slicing through the line himself, setting up Lomax for yet another conversion from right in front of the uprights. It was a fitting play for one of Norman and Hunt’s best collaborations so far this year, bring St. George to quadruple Canterbury at an imposing 24-6 lead.

It now felt like a very long time since the Bulldogs’ opening surge, and their opening try felt ever further behind them after two good results under the high ball for the Red V. First, Aitken cleaned up the footy right on the line, and then Ravalawa managed to get his team a penalty after Crichton was pinged for tackling him in the air. As the replay showed, Ravalawa had actually lost the football by the time that Crichton arrived at him, making it even more frustrating for the Dogs when the Dragons scored on the first tackle of the next set.

If St. George’s previous tries had been masterpieces of organisation, then these next four points showed just how brilliantly they could regather when their organisation went awry – or the extent to which the game now seemed to be operating in their favour. Once again, Norman linked up with Hunt, who slid through the line before popping the footy across to Jacob Host to speed up the right side of the park. While Host kicked for Dufty, the deflection of Meaney sat up perfectly for Lomax, who scooted forward to score before converting his own try a minute later.

For a moment, it looked as if a one-on-one contest between Tariq Sims and Kieran Foran was going to be the last word in the game. During the replay, Sims seemed to exert just enough downward pressure with his left hand as Foran wrapped his arms around his shoulders, but the call from the bunker was no try. Even more dramatically, Foran scored at the end of the next Canterbury set, off a short ball from Danny Fualalo that drew in Paul Vaughan, allowing Foran to slam past Sims, who got the last touch before Dufty tried to hold him up right on the chalk.

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While the Dogs were a bit far behind to really mount a comeback, this was still a critical rallying-point, especially given that Cogger had now been off the field for a significant amount of time, and especially in light of the massive role that Sims had played in the forward pack throughout the game. Nevertheless, the Red V came up with a rejoinder almost immediately – a catch-and-pass from Dufty, and then a brilliant ball from Lomax, who stopped right in the line before lobbing the footy across to Ravalawa in the corner.

From there, Ravalawa literally jumped over Crichton to plant the ball down while his entire body was suspended over the sideline. With Lomax adding the extras, the Dragons felt almost as triumphant as they had during their clash against the Bulldogs earlier in the year, partly because this also marked a comeback of sorts for the Hunt-Norman combination. They’ll be looking to continue with a big win when they take on the Sea Eagles at Lottoland in Round 14, while the Dogs will be keen to try and regain some pride when they travel to the SCG to meet the Roosters on Sunday afternoon.

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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