ROUND 7: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v. Wests Tigers (Bankwest Stadium, 28/6/20)

The Tigers scored a torrent of points against the Cowboys last week, but also conceded a huge number of points in the second stanza, so they wanted a big statement for their 500th game, which was appropriately a western derby, played against the Bulldogs at Bankwest. They didn’t get through their first set, however, after Luciano Leilua dropped the ball, but still survived the repeat set from Canterbury, which ended with an error from Dallin Watene Zelezniak beneath a Brandon Wakeham bomb, and then an injury for Will Hopoate, who was replaced by Jack Cogger five minutes in. Wakeham collected the first Luke Brooks bomb, and the Tigers kept the Dogs in their own end on the next set, only permitting them a 27-metre gain, but this would still be a remarkably consistent first half from Canterbury, both in terms of possession and field position. A big tackle from Cogger soon forced the second loose carry from the Tigers – this time from Josh Aloiai, who lost control of the ball after being dumped on his elbow – while Josh Reynolds leaked the first penalty for being offside on the very next play.

The Bulldogs now got a set restart fifteen metres out, and applied the first really sustained attack, forcing the Tigers to mount a big sliding defence to hold up Kerrod Holland on the right edge. Wakeham kicked to the middle of the park, where Reynolds went to tap the ball dead, only to collide in the air with Adam Doueihi, who collected it in both hands and then turned at an awkward angle to shield himself from Kieran Foran’s chase. For a moment it looked like we might lose both fullbacks in the first ten minutes, since Doueihi took a while to return to his feet, but he must have just been winded, since he was fine on the restart, which ended with a tight chip from Reynolds to the right edge, where David Nofoaluma caught the footy on the full and put in a second kick, only for DWZ to scoop it up right on the line. Dallin poked his nose through the defence on play four of the next set, and collected Brooks’ next bomb with no troubles, while the Dogs got their next six again call a set later, on the back of a terrific first tackle run from DWZ, who had taken control seamlessly after Hopoate left the field.

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Wests now brought the defence, as Brooks put in a huge shot on Dylan Napa, Matt Eisenhuth and Clark cleaned up Raymond Faitala-Mariner in the middle of the field, and Tommy Talau cleaned up a fairly average kick option from Jeremy Marshall-King. Still, their momentum was shot when Reynolds knocked on a risky offload from Clark, setting up Canterbury for their best sequence so far – a visionary kick on the third tackle from Foran for Reimis Smith, who ran up the left edge, timed the bounce perfectly, and carried it around the posts to set up an easy conversion for Jake Averillo. Foran kicked again at the end of the restart, but this time Talau collected it, while the Tigers scored on the very next set, thanks to their own best sequence so far, which started with a deft short ball from Joey Leilua to Nofaluma. Speeding down the sideline, Nofa booted the footy back in field while remaining a micrometre away from the chalk, sending it back across Leilua to Wakeham, who abruptly lost it, leaving it open for Harry Grant, who gathered it, abruptly headed back outside, and swiveled away from Napa and Aiden Tolman to slam down his team’s first four.

With Mbye adding the extras, the game was 6-6 as the second quarter got underway. The Dogs made their second error, and only their second incomplete set, a few minutes later, when Holland lost the footy early in the tackle count. This was a big moment with pretty even possession up until this point, so it was pretty frustrating for the away crowd when Mbye lost the ball on play four during a big tackle from Wakeham on the left edge. Talau put the ball down a moment later on the same edge off a pass from Doueihi, but the Tigers recovered by getting the first dropout, which came off a Reynolds kick, and then a terrific combined effort from Grant, who spearheaded the tackle, and Brooks, who came in for support, making this whole sequence a superb moment of synergy for the Tigers’ spin. Mbye managed a good offload on the second play to Brooks, who got it across to Grant, only for the young hooker to lose it into a massive hit from Sausao Sue, whose impact sent the Steeden spinning across the turf for DWZ to scoop up in front of the posts. Nevertheless, the Tigers scored soon after, off a Brooks bomb to the left corner, where Holland lost it backwards, and Sam McIntyre swept it up for a rapid try assist to Talau on the wing.

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Three minutes out from the break, the Bulldogs wasted their Captain’s Challenge trying to prove that a lost ball from Averillo had been a strip by Reynolds, and the Tigers scored soon after, thanks to a barnstorming run from Joey Leilua on the last tackle up the right edge, where he bent his head down and burrowed through three Canterbury defenders right on the line. Initially Henry Perenara sent it upstairs as no try, suggesting that Joey had lost the footy into the combined tackle from DWZ, Averillo and Faitala-Mariner, but extensive Bunker scrutiny revealed that not only had Leilua maintained control of the ball, but he’d got it down cleanly as well. Mbye booted through his second conversion of the night four seconds out from the siren, and the Tigers went into the sheds ten ahead. The onus was on Foran, then, to step up as key playmaker when the Dogs returned to the park, especially with Hopoate on the sideline for the remainder of the match. Canterbury had only won a single game this year, while the Tigers hadn’t yet enjoyed back-to-back wins, so both teams ground in for part two, with a dangerous tackle from Foran paving the way for the next four points.

They came as a double from Talau, who collected a cut-out pass from Doueihi and lunged his torso into the air, keeping both feet above the sideline as DWZ and Holland tried to bump him into touch, while putting the Steeden down with his left hand. Mbye shanked the kick across the face of the posts, but the Tigers were still fourteen ahead, and got the next penalty when Sue was pinged for not being square at marker. Matt Eisenhuth carried Jackson and Britt several metres on the first play, Cogger knocked down a pass from Grant to prevent Reynolds from finding open space, and the Tigers packed the scrum fifteen metres out, feeding the footy on the first play to Brooks, getting a scrum infringement from Faitala-Mariner in the process. McIntyre took a tackle in front of the posts, Eisenhuth was brought to ground by Adam Elliott before he could shift the ball left, and Luciano Leilua stood in the tackle and offloaded to Grant, who offloaded in turn to Reynolds, who made yet another offload for Luke Garner, who was held up just over the line. Reynolds grubbered through the defence on the last play, and Britt now conceded the first dropout of the second stanza.

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Foran went long with the kick, but Luciano got them to the twenty on the first play, and the Tigers got another restart, setting up Doueihi to smash over to the left of the posts, only for DWZ to make the best trysaver all night, getting his body under the footy and then rolling over the ex-Rabbitoh to make sure it never got to ground. On another night this might have quashed the Tigers’ momentum, but instead they got back into first gear, as Thomas Mikaele made a huge run five metres out, and Brooks made a short pass for Luciano to pummel into the Canterbury defence from close range. Mikaele got even closer to the chalk on play four, and Brooks started a rapid left sweep that saw Reynolds sent Doueihi over for the second time, but once again the on field ruling was no try – and once again DWZ got in the way, this time inadvertently, as his legs turned into the last line of defence after Douiehi was held up by a scramble of Bulldogs jerseys. Mbye had one more tackle, but didn’t do much with it, so Canterbury survived the biggest bout of field position form the Tigers so far. Nevertheless, Nofa intercepted a pass from Foran a play later, burning down the the right edge to culminate this recent surge of black and gold energy just when it seemed vanquished.

McIntyre made a huge hit on Averillo next time the Dogs had ball in hand, forcing the Canterbury no. 4 off the field for an HIA, but the home team got their best field position of the second half soon after, when Talau knocked on at the end of a Wakeham kick. Elliott now collided with Joey and Reynolds on the left, Faitala-Mariner took the footy further towards the posts, and Cogger started a rapid right sweep that was shut down when Jackson lost the ball off a Wakeham pass on play three, gifting the Tigers a seven tackle set in the process. Conversely, the Tigers capitalised immediately on this error, with Elijah Taylor made big metres up the middle of the field before Brooks broke through the line on the second play, speeding into open space where he kicked at a sharp angle back in field to Mbye, who took the tackle but still got a quick play-the-ball away to Grant. Grant now started a rapid right sweep that gained traction with a deft cut-out pass from Reynolds, and then reached its apex with a beautiful final flick pass from Joey to Nofa, who was just as deft at staying in field here as during his try assist for Grant, dancing along the sideline to put down another four points for the Tigers.

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Finally, Mbye added the extras, and the Tigers were quintuple the Bulldogs at 6-30. Leilua made the best offload of the night on the restart – blind, backwards through the legs – to Garner, before grubbering to the left edge on the last, where DWZ was forced to send the Steeden into touch. Nofoaluma looked set to break through the line on the first carry, but it all came to an abrupt end when Mbye was pinged for an obstruction play. This was a huge opening for the Dogs, especially with six again on the second tackle, but not even a sublime wide ball from Wakeham could set up a try here, as Doueihi cleaned up the Canterbury halfback’s last kick pretty easily. The Bulldogs came closer on the next set, when Elliott followed last week’s terrific try assist for Foran for a chip-and-chase to send Wakeham over the line, only for the replay to show that the big second-rower had lost the footy when setting up his second boot to the chalk. Finally, a few minutes later, Doueihi got his left edge try, collecting a brilliant ball from Grant to slam through JMK and Holland right on the line, bringing the Tigers to their final 34-6 sideline after Mbye once again had troubles with the conversion.

Despite a linebreak from Elliott in the dying minutes of the game the Bulldogs wouldn’t score again here, leaving them at the bottom of ladder – a stark contrast to the Titans’ superb victory over the Broncos yesterday. Meanwhile, this was just the splendid second stanza consolidation the Tigers needed to stave off the spectre of North Queensland’s late landslide of points last weekend, bringing them to sixth on the ladder between the Knights and the Raiders. They’ll be looking for an equally big win, then, when they rock up for another Battle of the West against the Panthers next week, while the Bulldogs will be looking to dig deep when they take on a Rabbitohs outfit frustrated from their loss to Penrith for the final match of Round 8.

About Billy Stevenson (750 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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