Apart from the Roosters, who have won their last five games, the Eels and Bulldogs had the best current streak when they met at Bankwest on Thursday night, with Parra having come away with four straight victories, and Canterbury with three. While the Eels had the home ground advantage, the Dogs were keen to prove that last week’s win over the Rabbitohs was no fluke, resulting in a grinding first half that saw only a single try scored in the first thirty-five minutes.
Parra got the first points of the night on the back of a sudden burst of field position. Moments after Jeremy Marshall-King was held to have charged down a Mitchell Moses kick, he leaked a penalty for crowding. At the other end of the field, Moses sent the footy right to Manu M’au, who executed one of the best offloads of the Parramatta season, popping the ball back to Waqa Blake with his right hand just before he hit the ground.
Blake then got through Dylan Napa and Aiden Tolman to slam the ball down with a big right hand effort of his own, putting the Eels six ahead once Moses sliced the Steeden through the posts. Parra now got their first dropout on the restart, after they got the ball back following Moses’ final kick, and Blake followed up his try by ferrying the footy back to the left edge of the field, where Clint Gutherson made a second kick.
While Reimis Smith managed to collect the ball and bring it back into the field of play, he was dragged back in goal by a pack effort from Dylan Brown, Maika Sivo and Michael Jennings. The Dogs did a bit better at the end of this set, however, as Kerrod Holland managed to just hold onto the football after Gutherson tried for a second dropout. With a penalty immediately after, Canterbury seemed to be rolling again, only for Sivo to make one of the hits of the year on Dallin Watene Zelezniak, absolutely skittling the ex-Panther before bring the ball back to the Bulldogs’ line.
Ma’u’s brilliant offload was now clouded by a trio of handling errors – all of them off Moses runs – that gradually decelerated the momentum that the Eels had built over the previous fifteen minutes. The rest of the first stanza settled into a grinding affair, an arm wrestle in which both teams tried and failed to take control of the match. By the last five minutes, the Eels didn’t feel like they had that much of advantage, given how much they had struggled to put another four or six points on the board.Embed from Getty Images
Sure enough, the Dogs were the next to score, thanks to a silky sweep out to their right edge two minutes before half time. First Kieran Foran ran the football right into the line, dragging in the defence before popping a short ball across to Josh Jackson, who sent it out the back to Will Hopoate. While Sivo overran his line, Gutherson almost got there in time to boot the ball out of Hoppa’s hand, but the Canterbury backliner still managed to get it to ground, despite an initial calling of no try.
Lachlan Lewis then nailed a superb sideline conversion, and Renouf To’omaga made the most of the last nine seconds with a big hit-up, to bring the first stanza to a close. Given their respective positions on the ladder these opening forty minutes felt like a loss for the Eels, especially since Canterbury had scored last, making it paramount that they reclaim the scoreboard when they return to the park – and reclaim it even earlier than they had over the first part of the game.
The grinding pressure of the first half spilled over early in the second half, as the Eels had to contend with the frustration of yet another error from M’au, and a particularly overt leg pull from Lewis on Nathan Brown. Brown took out his frustration with a shoulder charge with force on DWZ a set later, resulting in a sin bin and report, although the Dogs were soon down to twelve men as well, after Remis Smith was also binned and reported for a headbutt on Sivo while playing the ball.
Neither side managed to capitalise on the twelve man team, however, leading into another scramble for power marked by two almost-tries from Sivo. The first time Dylan Brown sent the ball out the back to Gutherson, who doubled-pumped and then popped a harbour bridge pass over to his winger. From there, Sivo headed back inside, pivoting off the right foot, slamming Hopoate out of the way, and putting the Steeden down, only to lose possession a millisecond before it hit the turf.
A few sets later, Sivo had another near miss, catching the footy in the air above Smith out on the wing, but unable to get himself or the ball back in field. The Dogs now started to build momentum, with Holland eventually upstaging Ma’u’s offload with one of the best second phase efforts of their season. Despite appearing to be all wrapped out on Canterbury’s left edge, the little no. 3 sent the footy around the corner to Nick Meaney, who picked it up and slammed it down in the corner.Embed from Getty Images
In fact, the football didn’t make direct contact with the ground, since Moses led with the legs for the second time in the match, sliding across the try line and kicking at the Steeden, but actually making contact with Meaney’s hand. The call was penalty try, as Canterbury found themselves rocketing ahead once again after Meaney added another deft sideline conversion. The Dogs now doubled down on their defence, with Jackson putting on one of the best trysavers of the night to prevent Shaun Lane going over moments later.
A surge of possession in the last couple of minutes gave the Eels a chance for a team try, but the Bulldogs stayed strong, maintaining their six point lead to inch them a little further up the ladder, proving that their win over the Bunnies last week was indeed evidence of a late-season surge of confidence and focus. They’ll be look to let loose, then, when they travel to Townsville to take on the Cowboys in a week’s time, while the Eels will be raring for a win when they take on the Broncos the following night.