The Dragons were coming off thirty over Manly when they hosted a Bulldogs outfit raring to replicate their only win of the season over St. George in Round 4. Jason Saab was replacing Jordan Pereira, suspended for a grade one shoulder charge against Reuben Garrick, when Kerrod Holland was starting in place of Reimis Smith, suspended for a dangerous tackle on Alex Glenn. Lachlan Lewis was replacing Brandon Wakeham in the halves, and Nick Meaney was starting at fullback with DWZ out to the wing.
Round 10 tended to be characterized by lopsided games, but this was arguably the most exciting, as the Dragons started wth the fastest try of any team in 2020, dominating the opening quarter until the Bulldogs mounted a comeback that seemed to guarantee them the win until the last ten minutes, when St. George executed a second comeback, and Norman concluded with one of the freakiest tries of the season.
The Dragons scored in the opening minute of the match, as Lomax put in the best club chase and catch of the season, surging forward from the halfway line to collect Corey Norman’s first kick on the full, and then offloading on the ground for Matt Dufty to curve around behind the posts untouched. Lomax added the extras from right in front, and St. George were two points per minute before the Bulldogs had touched the ball.
Shocked by this fast start, the Dogs amped up their defence on the next set, forcing Norman to kick from deep within his own end, before Nick Meaney got the first carry for Canterbury. Lachlan Lewis’ first bomb was a beauty, spiraling at such an awkward angle that Hunt had to let it bounce back obliquely towards the Bulldogs runners, although Dufty ended up taking it without too much trouble. Norman hoisted it next time as well, doing all the kicking at this point, although Meaney was safe now.
The Dogs got their first advantage a moment later, when Paul Vaughan was called offside, although they didn’t even get to their third tackle, since Raymond Faitala-Mariner spilled a fairly standard pass from Kieran Foran two-thirds up the park. Tariq Sims had a rollicking run midway through the next tackle count, and Hunt did well with his first kick, lobbing it over the defence and then following through with a superb chase and low tackle to force Meaney to ground just in front of the dead ball line.
Vaughan took the first hit-up of the dropout, and a sea of blue and white jerseys piled on to prevent Mikaele Ravalawa on the second carry, but Canterbury couldn’t halt the St. George momentum now. On play three, Euan Aitken completed an early left sweep by collecting a short ball from Dufty at the ten and sliding between Kerrod Holland and Dallin Watene Zelezniak ,and beating Meaney as well at the line, disposing of 1, 2 and 3 before Lomax’s sideline conversion attempt ricocheted at speed off the right post.
Lomax took out his frustration with more pressure on Meaney beneath Norman’s next bomb, at the end of the restart, but this time the Canterbury fullback was staunch. Lewis found touch with his next kick to get his men some breathing-space – and they needed it for the next set, which was one of St. George’s creative so far, pivoting around a superb offload by Hunt midway through the tackle count before Norman opted for a disorienting chip that defied Holland before Lewis cleaned up the play.
Conversely, Sims and Vaughan converged to prevented Meaney getting an offload away on the next set, while Lewis tried to follow Norman with a creative short-range option, only for Hunt to charge down his grubber and leave it free for Norman to scoop it up and get it out to Lomax, who broke through the line, made twenty metres and then shifted it across to Ravalawa to make it all the way to the Bulldogs’ thirty. Things got worse for Lewis, who was pinged for lying in the ruck, at the ten, three tackles later.
St. George had the wind at their back, and would have scored here if not for a David-and-Goliath effort from Holland, who jammed in for a low tackle to force a Sims knock-on just when the Red V were consolidating on their left edge. It was the second heroic tackle this set, since Ravalawa’s passage up the right wing, on the back of Lomax’s linebreak, had only been halted by a similarly desperate effort from Meaney, who got a hand to the cult winger’s jersey at speed to bring him to ground on the sideline.
As a result, the Dragons lost a bit of momentum on the next set, and were unable to come up with a chase commensurate to Hunt’s best kick so far – a long, skidding effort that only sat up for Christian Crichton right on the Canterbury line. Foran’s next kick was even better – the best for the Bulldogs so far – looking set to tumble over the dead ball line only to come to a halt right in the corner for Ravalawa, who was never going to bring it back over the chalk in the face of the fastest chase so far from Montoya.
Norman went long with the dropout, and the Dogs got six again on the first tackle, off a ruck error from Blake Lawrie, settling into their first really sustained close-range assault on the St. George line. Aiden Tolman had a shot beside the left post, and while he was held up, his charge opened up space for Jeremy Marshall-King to elude Lawrie, duck under Hunt at second marker, and score out of dummy half, landing square on the Steeden before the Dragons’ defenders around him knew what was happening.
Meaney converted from right in front and we were back to a four point game as the second quarter got underway, while the Bulldogs had recovered a bit of composure after St. George’s early onslaught. They put in a tough series of carries on the restart, but the Dragons were as determined in defence as the Bulldogs had been in the wake of conceding their first try, inducing Foran to follow Lewis by sending it over the side.
The game paused while Foran got some attention to his left toe, after Hunt accidentally stamped his foot while trying to shut down the previous kick, and he came off the park as the Dragons packed the scrum. After such a considerable break, the Dragons were recharged when they finally started the set, although their enthusiasm got the best of them, since Lawrie made an error late in the count, while it turned out Foran had only gone off to avoid time-wasting, and returned to the park for the following scrum.
RMF and Luke Thompson got the Dogs rolling again with two big runs up the middle, and Foran took on kicking duties immediately, booting it to the right edge, where Jason Saab fumbled it in the air and conceded six more tackles to Canterbury right on the St. George line. JMK had a second shot at the line, this time on the other side of the posts, and while the Red V rolled him onto his back this time around, they conceded even more pwhen Lawrie wasn’t square, and then gave six again for a McInnes ruck error.
All of a sudden, the Bulldogs had the fastest acceleration of field position all game, and looked set to capitalise on it, elasticizing over to the right edge, thanks to a deft wide ball from Lewis, and getting yet another penalty in front of the posts, this time off a Paul Vaughan offside. It was a huge letdown, then, when Tolman lost the ball on play two, dropping it cold on the left wing, where Hunt scooped it up and shifted it out to Dufty, who very nearly followed Lomax’s sublime linebreak from earlier in the game.
If this had been the biggest chance so far for the Dogs, then Tolman’s error was the biggest shift in momentum, especially since Saab did better under the high ball this time – or seemed to, popping an Adam Clune bomb back ito the field of play, only for the ref to correctly discern that he’d momentarily knocked it into DWZ’s head before securing it. Foran recouped some of the momentum of the Dogs’ last set, carving out space up the left edge, where Lewis kicked for a Dufty knock-on in front of the posts.
The Dogs had ten of the last twelve sets in the game, so it was imperative that they score out of the scrum here – and that’s just what they did, as Meaney condensed all the accumulated field position and possession of the last five minutes into one splendid run at the line. Receiving the footy from Foran, the young fullback dummied to the left at just the right minute to get outside Hunt and put the ball down, before converting his own try from the sideline to put Canterbury ahead for the first time.
This was a critical moment for Jackson’s leadership – and he continued to elasticize his team, risking a ball so wide on the first tackle of the restart that it actually bounced on the ground before Crichton collected it. The game came full circle at the end of the set, when the Dogs finally rivalled Lomax’s sublime kick chase of the first minute – but with a pack effort rather than an individual effort, as a sea of blue and white jerseys surged onto Dufty to drag him back over the line, under the crossbar, from five metres out.
Norman went long on the dropout – so long that Meaney didn’t have time to get in position to clean up the kick before it tumbled all the way back to the St. George thirty. Still, the Dogs ended up getting a set from close range when Trent Merrin infringed the ruck two tackles later. RMF capitalised a moment after, collecting a short ball from JMK, and drew in Norman, Frizell, Dufty and McInnes like a gravitational force field in the second row, then disposed of them just as quickly as he got the Steeden down.
In ten minutes, and two compressed periods of field position, the Bulldogs had gone from a four point deficit to an eight point lead, since Meaney added another two now. Renouf To’omaga took a huge tackle to get the restart underway, and Dylan Napa made good metres up the middle, before Lewis soared the Steeden into the air and Ravalawa caught it on the full. Since the 19th minute, the Red V had 1/3 completions, compared to 14/15 for the Dogs, so they needed to effect a quick turnaround here.
Instead, they conceded even more on the brink of half time, as Meaney made it a ten point lead with a penalty kick right on the siren, thanks to a late tackle from Sims, who was put on report for sending Foran off the park for an HIA. With this kind of comeback, Canterbury seemed set for a torrent of points, and might have unleashed them with more time up their sleeve here, but they would only score a single penalty shot in the back forty, when St. George came up with the second great comeback of the match.
Foran was good to go after the break, but stayed on the sideline for a bit, as the Dogs set their sights on a second win for 2020. On the other side of the Steeden, the Dragons got the first field position, on their opening set, off a ruck error from Jackson. Merrin got a nice offload out the back to Hunt, Josh Kerr drove into the line on the right of the posts, and Clune ended with a deft grubber to trap JMK behind the chalk for a dropout.
This was already a good counterpoint to the Dogs’ dominance in field position over the second quarter, even if Lewis booted it all the way back over the St. George thirty, forcing Merrin into an especially hard run on the first carry. The Red V lost some of their momentum midway through the tackle count, after getting stuck on the right edge, and Lewis bookended the set by sticking out a boot to shut down Norman’s grubber on the last, before kicking just outside the Dogs’ forty to end the next set.
Sims was restless in his next encounter with To’omaga, getting six again in the process, as the Dragons settled into the set they should have executed on the dropout, remaining focused on the left side of the park, but with more care and precision this time around. It all came together on the penultimate play, when Hunt spun a grubber off the right boot out to the left corner, where Saab arrived at the second bounce, only to fumble it backwards under pressure from DWZ, in the best clutch defence so far.
The fastest turnover period of the game now ensued, as RMF dropped the ball cold, Hunt got a delayed call of offside, and Lewis failed to find touch with the subsequent kick, leaving space for Ravalawa to scoop up the footy and get the Dragons rolling again. The Red V had another chance to reverse the run of play when DWZ sent a hospital wide ball out to Crichton right on the St. George line, but the Canterbury no. 5 somehow caught it, and actually followed with a wide ball of his own to Montoya.
Nevertheless, St. George had 68% of possession since the break, so the next try was in their grasp if they could just consolidate here. Saab and DWZ met again beneath a Clune bomb on the next set, and while Saab secured possession cleanly in the air this time, the ex-Panther still managed to strip the Steeden from him on the way down. Saab took out his frustrating with a rolling run early in the next tackle count, and Hunt followed with a well-placed low kick that Meaney only just brought back into play.
Aitken and Sims were raring to break through the line on the next set, and Norman had some of his best footwork of the game, but Hunt put it down at the other end of the park. Sausao Sue had just come off the bench, and seized the moment, carrying the footy forty metres down field, although the Dragons stayed pretty staunch here, right down to the last play, when they cleaned up Holland after he collected Lewis’ kick. Yet with an incorrect play-the-ball from McInnes, they were on the back foot once again.
Meaney lined up the last two blue and white points of the game, making it 5/5 for a converted try lead. Jackson and Sione Katoa were pumped enough to lift Vaughan clean off the ground towards the end of the next set, although Vaughan got the ball back for the Red V a moment later, receiving an offload from Meaney as Clune dragged the Canterbury fullback over the sideline. This was crunch time, as St. George got a full set inside the ten, the sky turned pink over the Pacific and the last quarter arrived.
Dufty lost the ball a moment later, and the Bulldogs successfully challenged the subsequent call of knock-on against Crichton to show that their winger had (supposedly) not played at the footy before flipping it forward. It was an unlucky call for St. George, who got some joy pretty quickly at the end of the next set, when Dufty leaped up to collect a soaring Lewis bomb, and tempted a tackle in the air from DWZ.
Ofahiki Ogden responded with one of the biggest hits of the night, putting a rude end to a drifting run from Sims across the face of the ruck, while Lewis was just as staunch in shutting down Jackson Ford right on the chalk. Ravalawa returned the favour on Montoya, coming in for a side hit on tackle one that sent the wiry winger flying across the field, producing a brief stoppage in play to confirm he didn’t need to go for an HIA.
It was getting to that point in the game where it looked like the Dogs might only need to defend well to retain their twelve-point lead, since the Dragons now hadn’t scored since the seventh minute. Things went from bad to worse when Tyrell Fuimaono mistook himself for a decoy runner, and was totally taken by surprise when he found Hunt’s pass heading straight for his chest. Meanwhile, Canterbury showed the first signs of preparing for a field goal, even if it didn’t quite feel on the cards just yet.
All of a sudden, though, the Dragons got the Canterbury error that broke the game wide open. Clune booted a huge bomb from the left edge, and Crichton thought Meaney was going to make the catch, scooting in at the last minute to not only fumble the footy but ricochet it out to the left wing, where Saab finally got some joy by collecting it and slamming through Lewis to score. He was initially called offside, but the replay showed that the Steeden had travelled ten metres, clearing up a call of try.
Lomax was as reliable as ever, adding the extras to narrow the deficit to six points with fourteen points on the clock. Ford lost it forward early in the restart, and Crichton very nearly scored three tackles later on the left edge, where only the toughest of pack efforts spearheaded by Dufty prevented the Bulldogs from recovering their twelve point lead. This was the kind of defence that wins games, as was Clune’s effort on the next set, when he withstood a Meaney fend to stop the fullback reaching the chalk.
Norman now took it on the full in goal from Lewis, who took out his frustration with a high shot on the next tackle, giving the Dragons the field position they needed to finally level the score. Norman and McInnes both danced around gaps in the defence, with Norman taking a second carry, and Clune ended with a chip to the left edge, where Saab caught it on the full and commenced a right sweep that took the Red V all the way to the other wing, where Lomax let a flick offload from Dufty sail over the sideline.
Still, Dufty recovered the rhythm immediately, doing the splits to collect a wobbly Lewis bomb on the full, as the Dragons resumed right where they left off. Clune broke into space on the fourth play and popped it outside to Dufty, who got some joy after his botched offload with a double on the other side of the park, putting the Dragons equal with Canterbury at 22-22 once Lomax added another two points to the board.
This was the most clinical and economical try of the game – it looked effortless – and finally returned the Dragons to their supremacy of the first ten minutes. They got their last bout of position with one of the freakiest moments all round – an enormous bomb from Lewis that never made it into the air, but instead ricocheted off McInnes’ head for the biggest falcon of the season. By play three the Dragons were too close for a field goal, but forced a dropout when Crichton was forced to jump for the footy in goal.
All the plosive intensity of this game had peaked during the last set, so the Dragons had ample adrenaline on the field if they could just channel it here. Kerr got them rolling with a massive run on the second play, and Norman missed the one-pointer, shanking it away to the left as the Dogs got stuck in for what looked set to be their final set of the game, with a little under two minutes on the clock. Cometh the hour cometh the man, as Norman scooped up a wayward ball and won the game with a sublime try.
The error came from Montoya, who ricocheted a cut-out pass from Lewis into open space, leaving it available for Norman to scoop it up and make his way to the line with his team mates cheering out in support behind him. The Red V need to channel this energy directly into next week’s game against the Sharks, while the Dogs will need to bounce back from this late upset for an away game against Newcastle on Sunday, as both teams spend the week coming down from one of their toughest contests of 2020.