The Bulldogs were at the bottom of the ladder and the Eels in the top four when they met at Bankwest on Sunday afternoon, but the age-old rivalry between these two teams made it a much closer game than their ranks would have suggested, especially since the Dogs were presumably still pumped from their shock win over Newcastle in the Hunter last week. They got the first restart three minutes in, but Blake Ferguson was safe under pressure from the next Kieran Foran bomb, while the Eels received the first penalty two tackles into their next set, thanks to an offside error from Aiden Tolman. They didn’t get to the end of the set, since Marata Niukore coughed up a Clint Gutherson pass, but got the ball back immediately when Tim Lafai lost it on the very next play. Mitchell Moses did well to recover the footy after losing his footing on the second tackle – perhaps getting used to his new boots – and more than regathered two plays later, collecting an offload from Junior Paulo to slide past the defence untouched. Brad Arthur had been disappointed with his team’s slow start over the last couple of weeks, so this was a promising change, although they got a scare when Fergo was defied by the shadows at the north end of Bankwest, forcing Paulo to scoot around him to collect the kickoff. Accordingly, Reed Mahoney booted it on the fourth, from within the forty, and the Dogs made the most of their field position, from a strong run up the ruck from Luke Thompson to an deftly recovered high ball from Nick Meaney.
Marcelo Montoya crashed over a moment later, off a neat pair of passes from Foran and Meaney, but the try was denied due to a supposed obstruction on Moses from Raymond Faitala-Mariner. Foran hesitated whether to take the Captain’s Challenge – and should have, since the replay showed that Moses had clearly made a defensive misread, although by this point Mitch had already booted the penalty kick back down the park. A period of blue and gold dominance now ensued, only for Montoya to get some revenge by forcing Fergo over the sideline just as he was shaping to flick the footy back inside. Canterbury got the second restart of the match on the next set, and Lachlan Lewis cleared some space on the right edge, before chipping to the right corner, where Gutherson just prevented Dallin Watene Zelezniak from carrying it over the line. Things got worse from DWZ a set later, when he played the ball in the wrong direction – an error so egregious that it totally decimated the Bulldogs’ spirit, at least for the moment, allowing the Eels to score off a left sweep that progressed through a strong pass from Moses, a good fend from Shaun Lane, and an inside pass from Michael Jennings to Gutho for the putdown. Once again Moses added the extras, this time from the other side of the posts, before the Dogs got their first penalty – offside from Nathan Brown – and then their third set restart to get their attack rolling.Embed from Getty Images
They continued to consolidate their field position as Thompson dragged three defenders right to the posts on the third, Tolman came pretty close to repeating his linebreak from last week, and Meaney forced Niukore to bump his final kick dead by setting it up on a dime for Foran. Dylan Napa and Reagan Campbell-Gillard came together on the first tackle, and Josh Jackson added more metres on the second, but the Dogs didn’t do much within the Eels’ ten – and couldn’t really captalise under the high ball, despite the fact that DWZ knocked it back and Jackson offloaded it inside, since Thompson was cleaned up as soon as he received it. Jackson was perhaps a bit too personally invested here, sending up a Captain’s Challenge to contest whether Maika Sivo had made contact before Dallin, but the replay clearly showed that the mistake had come from the ex-Panther – an even more frustrating outcome in that a Challenge of Faitala-Mariner’s obstruction would have ensured the Dogs their first try. This marked the start of a pretty low patch for Canterbury, as Ofahiki Ofgden was pinged for an escort, and Lafai for holding down Gutherson, allowing the Eels to slowly but surely accumulate the field position needed for their third and final four-pointer.
This was a beautiful set play from Parra, starting with a superb deception move from Moses, who looked left as he dropped the ball on his boot, but instead sent the Steeden straight down the field, catching Meaney out of position and setting up Gutherson for the best chase of the game – a classic Gutho effort, galvanised further by his standoff with Lafai a few minutes before, that saw the blue and gold fullback outpace both Meaney and Jeremy Marshall-King to land on the Steeden for what could easily have been a bounce if he hadn’t timed the putdown so perfectly. This was stunning football, and looked even better on the new Fox Rover camera, and yet these would mark the last Parramatta points all night, as the Dogs commenced a comeback that started with Jackson spearheading an epic pack effort – more than half the team – to drag Fergo back beneath the posts from five metres out. This was the big one-man effort that the Bulldogs needed, and sure enough they scored on the dropout, thanks to superb wide ball from Sione Katoa that set up Foran to send Faitala-Mariner through a hole on the left edge – a brilliant way for the big second-rower to hit back after his false obstruction on Moses during the Dogs’ first tryscoring push, especially since the play here involved isolating the Parramatta halfback, who threw out an arm around RFM’s neck but couldn’t hope to stop his momentum at such close range.Embed from Getty Images
Jake Averillo added the extras to reduce the deficit to two converted tries, but Canterbury couldn’t accelerate further on the brink of half time, as a pair of penalties from Lafai and Foran – dangerous tackle and offside error respectively – yielded most of the attacking position to Parramatta. Whatever happened in the sheds must have worked, though, since they came back raging like a different team, starting with a linebreak from DWZ, who put his botched play-the-ball further behind him with a try assist a minute later, when he collected a wide ball from Lewis and popped it across to Averillo on the wing. From there, Averillo got around Sivo, pivoted off the left foot, leapt in the air with the ball in his left hand, and put it down a millisecond before his right hand hit the turf – so close that it almost looked like his hand had touched grass first, and only in slow motion could you see the tip of the footy brush the turf before Averillo’s palm made contact. Not only was this his best single play since joining the NRL, and the best putdown of the year, but it could easily be the best four-pointer he ever scores – an immediately iconic try that momentarily overshadowed his missed conversion, although these two points would come back to haunt the Dogs in the later stages of the game, and eventually prevent them taking Parramatta into golden point.
For a moment, it looked like Canterbury might slump after points again, due an error from Napa, but Jackson got the ship sailing once more by earning a penalty from RCG for holding down, before an error from Blake set up the Bulldogs’ next tryscoring sequence. For the second successive set, Foran had to redeem a poor pass in the middle of the field, and he did so perfectly, laying the platform for the blue and white army to settle into a seamless left sweep that started with him isolating Moses, and then sending the Steeden through a superb catch-and-pass for Montoya to score in the corner. After containing two wobbly passes, this was a testament to Foran’s organisation and leadership, while there was a nice symmetry in Montoya scoring four after having a legitimate try called back in the first few minutes. There was a sense, then, that the Dogs were coming full circle, especially when Averillo added the sideline conversion, but Canterbury were never quite able to clinch the comeback, despite applying some genuine periods of pressure over the next twenty minutes, starting with what initially looked like their next tryscoring sequence shortly after.Embed from Getty Images
The play started with a wide kick from Moses that Blake lost and Foran scooped up and shifted across to Lafai, who popped it back to Meaney in turn. Gutherson took him down on the sideline, but the Bulldogs had still picked up fifty metres, and were raring for a try, as Averillo barged at the line on the right edge, Napa made good post-contact metres, and Jackson grubbered to trap Sivo behind the try line for the next dropout. Once more the Dogs accelerated, and had the numbers on the left four tackles in, although Lewis couldn’t get it out to Meaney in time. Still, he earned a penalty from Andrew Davey for holding down, and the hosts felt as if they had to score here, as Foran tried to replicate his assist to Faitala-Mariner on the second, Averillo surged up the right side, and Lewis dribbled it off the boot for Foran. In real time, it looked like Foran had managed to sneak around Moses and put the ball down, but the replay showed he had missed it, and the footy had come off Gutho’s legs, leading to a second successive dropout – the longest period of field position from either team so far. Amazingly, the Dogs didn’t get to their kick, as Napa was wrapped up by Moses on the last, although they got one last chance when Sivo put the football down on the very next play. Finally, they started to wane, as Foran made an uninspired pass on the left edge, and then sent a forward pass out to Meaney in almost exactly the same position.
There were nearly twenty minutes left, but this was the death knell for the Dogs – and a confidence-booster for the Eels; proof that they could defend their line despite the most relentless period of attack all night. Canterbury got one more dropout, and then the Eels another, before both teams more or less went set for set, or else error for error, as the final siren approached, with the scoreline remaining 16-18. This was a pretty amazing defensive effort from the Bulldogs – the Eels hadn’t scored since the twenty-seventh minute – although that just made the two-point loss all the more agonising, since back-to-back wings against Newcastle and Parramatta would have done wonders in cementing a new era of Canterbury-Bankstown football in the wake of their recent leadership changes. Nevertheless, this does feel like a new Bulldogs outfit, so it’ll be interesting to see how they cope when they take on another top eight team with Melbourne next week. On the other side of the Steeden, this was probably a much tougher contest than the Eels were expecting – and a real scare in these final moments, when they would have expected to clinch the win – so they’ll be keen to rack up a much bigger margin when they travel to Kogarah on Sunday afternoon to take on a Cronulla outfit pumped from their last-minute win over Brisbane on Friday.