ROUND 8: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v. South Sydney Rabbitohs (Bankwest Stadium, 5/7/20)

Souths were coming off a frustrating loss to the Panthers when they met the Bulldogs at Bankwest on Sunday night, so it was great to see Latrell Mitchell safe under Brandon Wakeham’s first kick, even if Dane Gagai knocked on beneath Adam Reynolds’ first bomb – an oblique effort that soared high but didn’t travel far after coming off the side of the boot. Kieran Foran was the next to kick, and Gagai made up for his error by collecting it clean, getting James Roberts some early ball, as Wayne Bennett had instructed, before Mitchell opened up space for Johnson to cruise down the eastern sideline and curve around to ground the Steeden beneath the posts. This was a rousing statement from Latrell, and a brilliant run from Johnston, who pivoted away from Dallin Watene Zelezniak and outpaced a late chase from Reimis Smith. The Bunnies had exposed Will Hopoate’s absence early, winning the battle of the fullbacks in these opening minutes, although the Bulldogs survived the restart, thanks in part to a good take under the high ball from Nick Meaney, and followed with their first fast set. Reynolds helped resumed the Bunnies’ momentum with a kick that sat up right on the try line, but DWZ responded with an offload to Jeremy Marshall-King on play two, as the game settled into a set-for-set rhythm after South Sydney’s dominant opening.

Mitchell took two runs on the next set, although it ended with Reynolds misdirecting his second high kick of the night. This time Gagai managed to just gather it into his face as the defence brought him to ground, but Foran made a good dummy and run on the next set to almost break through the line. Once again, Latrell steadied the ship, collecting the Steeden on the full in goal to get a seven-tackle set, while Damien Cook mirrored Foran with a run and near-linebreak up the right edge, as the Bunnies started to consolidate off the first restart off the match, from a big run up the middle from Tom Burgess to a brilliant offload from Cook to Jayden Su’A right on the line. Everything came together with a quick play-the-ball from Cameron Murray and a massive sweep to the left edge, but imploded with Latrell sending the Steeden too far, costing an unmarking Johnston a double on the wing. Reynolds now conceded the first penalty by arriving at the scrum too late, as Adam Elliott stepped into the spotlight, taking a hard run on the first carry before shifting a short ball across to Marcelo Montoya on the last after the halves couldn’t come up with a convincing kick option. Cody Walker awkwardly dropped the ball on his boot to end the next South Sydney set, and the Dogs got their first restart on play one, accelerating into their fastest set so far.

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On play two, Raymond Faitala-Mariner ran several metres through a tackle from Reynolds, but couldn’t find a support player, while Foran almost kicked for Meaney to score, but still got a dropout when Gagai was forced to bump the ball dead. Dylan Napa and Aiden Tolman took the first two carries, before DWZ broke through the line on the right edge, dummying but sending the footy forward out to Christian Crichton on the wing, and so bringing this burst of Bulldogs energy to an abrupt conclusion. This should have galvanised the Bunnies, but Walker didn’t do much with the next kick, sending it drably over the sideline right when Souths should have been opting for a consolidation play. Reynolds didn’t get space on the next set for a convincing kick either, while the Dogs got flamboyant on their next set, starting with a cut-out pass from Wakeham out to Crichton, who spun away from a Mitchell tackle on the wing. By the next play, Canterbury were back on the other wing, before Foran kicked to the middle of the park, where Murray made a critical catch in front of the posts.

The Bunnies couldn’t accelerate over this first forty, so you wouldn’t have guessed the eventual landslide of cardinal and myrtle points at this moment, even though the Dogs have a history of starting strong and then fading in 2020. Finally, Reynolds tapped into his brilliance with the boot, directing the footy from the Bunnies’ thirty deep in goal, where it sat up a metre from the dead ball line, forcing DWZ to make the kick return of the game to bring the Steeden back in play. Wakeham now attempted another bold pass to Crichton, but this time he missed it, although the Rabbits didn’t do much with this augmented field position, since Wakeham got closure with an error-inducing low tackle on Ethan Lowe a moment later. Yet Wakeham’s frustration got the better of him presently, when he followed a Montoya error with an illegal strip on Cook in front of the posts, on the back of South Sydney’s most sweeping left play all night. The Bunnies clamoured for a professional foul, but instead Reynolds got the kick in front of the posts to put his team eight ahead – and was perhaps lucky not to have been penalised for a knock-on back up the field, after the replay showed him getting a slight touch to the footy before Montoya made the mistake that gave Souths ball to begin with.

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The Rabbits started to lose momentum in the last ten minutes, starting with a shoulder charge from Su’A and progressing through back-to-back offside penalties from Hame Sele and Cody Walker. Sauaso Sue, Renouf To’omago and Josh Jackson all charged at the line from five metres or less – Sue took two carries – before Wakeham chipped to the left corner for Montoya to catch the footy on the full and put it down after a 353-day absence from the NRL. South Sydney had been the dominant team so far, but this try was proof that they needed to accelerate quicker in the second half – and they got a chance immediately, receiving their second penalty of the night thirty seconds in, off a high shot from Dean Britt on Liam Knight. They made good headway on both sides of the field, as Roberts ran into a tackle from Montoya on the right, and Graham offloaded to Walker on the left, before Su’A put down a Reynolds grubber beside the posts for his first try since early 2018, and his first four points as a Rabbitoh. Reynolds added the extras, and the Bunnies got a fresh burst of field position when Britt made his second mistake, losing the footy on play four of the next Canterbury set, but once again they couldn’t consolidate, as Reynolds kicked to the corner for Roberts, who found the bounce defying him as he tried to collect it with one hand.

Graham collected a Reimis Smith offload a moment later, and by all accounts the Rabbits should have scored here, as Latrell got them into first gear with a silky pass out to Gagai on the eastern edge. Reynolds shot out a cut-out ball to Roberts on the last, who shifted it across for Gagai to reprise and complete his Latrell-assisted right-side run, but the replay showed his feet had brushed the sideline as he tried to duck and weave away from Foran, postponing his 50th NRL try for the time being. Roberts got some closure with a strong tackle on DWZ after the ex-Panther collected the next high ball, and Mitchell collected the next Wakeham kick dead on the chest, but this brief burst of energy was aborted when Walker made a marginally late run into Wakeham after he’d disposed of the subsequent Reynolds bomb. The Bunnies decelerated further when the game paused for Graham to have his head strapped, while Elliott contributed another great pair of runs on the next set, getting a restart for the second, on the fourth tackle, as the Dogs settled into their best bout of field position since the siren.

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Three plays later, DWZ sent a harbour bridge ball out to Crichton, who couldn’t get away from Walker, and Wakeham chipped to the right again on the last, where Johnston could have conceivably caught the footy on the full in goal, but instead popped it into touch to concede the first dropout since the break. No surprise that Elliott made a barnstorming run on the first carry, before DWZ managed a deft pickup on the second and Foran fielded a heavy hit from Burgess on the third, setting up Tolman to slam into the line from close range on the fourth. Finally, on the back of all that left edge momentum, Raymond Faitala-Mariner burst through the line, storming over a low tackle from Su’A and a follow-up from Reynolds to reach out his right hand and slam the Steeden down, off a quick play-the-ball from Tolman. Meaney missed the conversion to keep the Dogs to ten, and they wouldn’t score again this night, although they kept accelerating on the restart, before putting in a strong defensive set next time Souths had ball in hand, only for DWZ to cough up the footy after bringing a Reynolds bomb back from the line. This marked the start of a Canterbury slump that crystallised when Dallin wasted their Captain’s Challenge by trying to prove that Graham had ripped the ball from his grasp.

Conversely, the Rabbitohs capitalised immediately on an advantage for almost the first time all night, as Latrell fielded a strong hit-up, Burgess carried the footy half a metre over the line, bringing in five Bulldogs to hold him up, and Tevita Tatola made another huge carry to the right of the posts, before Walker was wrapped up by Tolman and Wakeham while trying to get an offload away on the left edge. The Bunnies had built a good platform here, laying the groundwork for Walker to cross over off a short pass from Murray, and so he twisted away from DWZ to get the Steeden down clean as a sea of blue and white jerseys dispersed around him. Just as the Bunnies had paid for Johnston’s decision to tap the footy into touch, so the Dogs had paid for DWZ’s loose carry – and, arguably, for the breathing-space his thwarted Captain’s Challenge gave the opposition – as another Reynolds conversion put South Sydney ten points ahead. Reyno followed with the chase of the night to bring down Meaney as he burst through the line in the middle of the park, while Johnston made a superb defensive decision to intercept a promising right-side sweep from Canterbury off a Kerrod Holland offload to Jackson right in front of the posts. Despite a Su’A error and another Canterbury dropout, Souths were finally reaching the rhythm they needed for a back-to-back try.

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Both teams took big hits psychologically due to a pair of injuries in the final ten minutes. The first was the most drastic, as Braidon Burns’ right knee buckled under him during a tackle from Meaney and Wakeham, ending his 2020 season, while the Dogs lost Elliott a few minutes later, after he sustained what appeared to be a pectoral injury during a clash with Burgess, and was subbed off for Sue after 100 run metres and 23 post-contact metres. The final Canterbury push came with a linebreak from Meaney, a hand in the ruck from Roberts, and an unsuccessful Captain’s Challenge from Reynolds to boot, but the Dogs lost their last glimpse of the try line when Gagai intercepted a Montoya pass and burned up the right edge to put down his 50th try in the final minute. All game, Souths had searched for a way to consolidate and accelerate, so this last great burst was a poetic and cathartic ending for the cardinal and myrtle – a motivator for their game against the Tigers next week, as the Dogs prepare to take on Brisbane following their devastating loss to the Warriors at Suncorp.

About Billy Stevenson (739 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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