The Bulldogs put on a show for their final game of the 2019 season, putting down two consecutive tries in the first fifteen minutes while Brisbane struggled for any consistent possession or field position. Canterbury were without Dallin Watene Zelezniak, and may have raised some eyebrows by deciding to put Will Hopoate at fullback instead of Nick Meaney, but the decision paid off from the Dogs’ very first repeat set, which came on the back of an error from Matt Lodge.
After Canterbury had moved the footy from side to side of the field, Lachlan Lewis made an unorthodox pass to the left wing, twisting around and lobbing the ball to Meaney, who was unmarked on the corner. While the wind defied a difficult sideline conversion from Meanry, he got a chance to add the two points a few minutes later. Once again, Lewis was the magic ingredient, sending an early kick from within the Dogs’ forty that sat up half a metre from the dead ball line.
Corey Oates was clearly expecting the Steeden to skittle into touch, so by the time Adam Elliott arrived in goal area he had nowhere to go, getting the Dogs the first dropout of the night. A few tackles later Meaney booted through a penalty goal after Gillett was pinged for a ball strip, before the Dogs added six more on the next set. After a couple of big carries to start things off, Kieran Foran kicked for the right corner, where Jayden Okunbor outleaped Oates to tap the ball back to Josh Jackson.
Collecting the footy on the full, the Canterbury captain burrowed down and got through Oates – who was having a rough night in defence – to put down the next four points right beside the posts. This time Meaney added the extras, putting the Bulldogs twelve ahead, as the Broncos looked on in disbelief. Canterbury had completed six of six sets, Brisbane two of three, so the visitors needed to make a big statement pretty quickly if they were going to get back in the game.
A couple of shaky moments from Canterbury gave the Broncos their first big opportunity. First, Reimis Smith chipped and chased, but couldn’t find Foran for support, and then Okunbor collected a Milford grubber right on the line, and chose to pass to Hoppa to avoid a dropout. He hadn’t counted on his fullback fumbling the footy, which was momentarily left available for the Broncos to score, only for Hoppa to clean it up – and be cleaned up – in goal, as Brisbane got their dropout after all.Embed from Getty Images
The repeat set ended with Jake Turpin kicking to the right corner, but Kotoni Staggs missed the catch, allowing Lewis to regather possession. Staggs would get some release with a double later in the first half, but before that there was a convulsive sequence, about ten minutes out from the siren, that felt like it might be a turning-point for one of the teams. This play started with a second Lodge error, setting up Foran for a kick down the right side of the field.
Oates and Okunbor both chased down the footy, but Okunbor didn’t quite manage to ground it. Dropout seemed like the intuitive call, but the replay showed that the Canterbury winger had made contact with the Steeden just after Oates, but just before it headed into touch. A possible try or dropout for the Dogs became a seven tackle set from the twenty for the Broncos. Yet Brisbane didn’t make much of it, as the game settled back into the set-for-set rhythm that had dominated the last ten minutes.
In the end, the X Factor was a big run up through the ruck from David Fifita, who broke through a tackle from Aiden Tolman before being brought to ground by an ankle tap from Renouf To’omaga. Fifita’s effort breathed new life into the Brisbane side, and a new level of urgency into the Canterbury defence, exemplified by an over-eager error from Lewis, who knocked the footy out of Andrew McCullough’s hand while he was still at marker.
The Broncos responded with a right sweep, and were helped again by Lewis, who made a defensive misread that allowed Anthony Milford to bring the footy into the line before shifting it across to Staggs to score. The wind also defied Jamayne Isaako, who broke a ten-goal streak as the Steeden sailed across the front of the posts, but Brisbane didn’t have to wait long to put more points on the board. A minute and a half from the siren, Staggs simply outplayed Hoppa under a Turpin kick, gathering the football clean and then curving around to ground it behind the posts.
Just as they had dominated the opening of the first stanza, the Dogs resurged after returning from the sheds. They looked like they might have their next try when Reimis Smith stripped the footy from Darius Boyd and ran the length of the park, but the replay showed that Smith had knocked onto Boyd before setting off down the field. It only took four minutes, however, for the Bulldogs to make good on this momentum, as Lewis and Meaney combined for their most elegant try so far.Embed from Getty Images
After the supreme simplicity of Staggs’ second effort it was paramount that Canterbury score with the same directness and confidence. Lewis showcased both those traits at the end of a fairly standard set, dummying to the left before sending the Steeden off the left boot to find Meaney directly on the chest. Meaney then risked a tackle from Staggs, and came dangerously close to the dead ball line, to set himself up for an easier conversion by bringing the football directly behind the posts.
So far, Meaney had been all class, and his brilliance on the wing continued when the Dogs got a repeat set on the back of a mistake from Oates. The play went left to begin with, where Hoppa caught a challenging pass in one hand, and shifted it across to Meaney, who managed to resist being dragged into touch by a Brisbane pack effort. When Canterbury returned to the left at the end of the set it was even more remunerative, as Hoppa sent a cut-out pass across Morgan Harper’s chest for Meaney to dash down the sideline and score before Milford could reach him.
Meaney’s first career double had turned into his first career hat trick, and was capped off by a superb sideline conversion that put the Bulldogs fourteen ahead. The Dogs were really rolling now, as Harper and Meanry combined to drag Staggs over the sideline from ten metres in field a couple of sets later. Yet two mistakes from Lewis now got the Broncos their final try – first a lost ball, and then a one-on-one miss on Milford, who brushed the footy to ground for the softest putdown of the night.
Full credit has to go to Fifita, too, who laid the platform for Milford with two big runs up the middle of the field, on either side of a hand in the ruck from Harper. James Segeyaro channeled Fifita’s speed on the restart, breaking through the line and passing early to Boyd, who was wise enough to take the tackle when he was confronted by Aiden Tolman. Unfortunately, Staggs didn’t follow Boyd’s example, offloading on the next play to send the footy careening over the sideline.
In a further twist, Lodge was penalised for breaking too quickly from the scrum, and while Dylan Napa might have been cleaned up on the last tackle, this whole sequence helped propel the Bulldogs towards their final try. These last four points started with Hoppa, who collected the high ball, looked to his left and then sent a wide pass out to Reimis Smith. While Milford made a valiant effort, he couldn’t stop the wiry winger from crashing over.Embed from Getty Images
At sixteen points ahead, and with five minutes on the clock, the Dogs were way past Brisbane. Although Meaney had 22 points, and only nine Canterbury players have scored more than 22 in a single game, he gave the final kick to Harper, after Payne Haas was pinged for a ball strip fifteen minutes out from the siren. Since there were no players leaving the Dogs on the park, the debutant got a chance to put points on the board, but the kick faded away to the left, leaving Meaney as the last pointscorer.
In a way that felt appropriate, since this had been a pivotal game in Meaney’s growth as a footballer. Despite being touted as wooden spooners earlier in the year, the Dogs had finished by winning seven of their last ten games, and won their last match over a top eight team – a splendid end to the best late season surge of 2019. On the other side of the Steeden, Brisbane are locked in at seventh, and heading into finals footy on a loss, meaning they’ll have to bring everything to the table when they meet Parra at Bankwest next week.