ROUND 17: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v. Gold Coast Titans (ANZ Stadium, 5/9/20)

The Titans were keen to make it two wins in a row for the first time in 2020 when they met Canterbury at ANZ on Saturday afternoon, while the Bulldogs were keen to work their way out of 16th place. The blue and white army had history on their side, having won four of their last five games against Gold Coast, but the visitors came away with a 14-18 win, in a game that was largely try-dependent, featuring only one conversion from either team.

Luke Thompson and Jake Averillo were back on the bench for the Bulldogs, and made a big impact on the field, while, on the other side of the Steeden, Jai Arrow and Anthony Don had recovered from their respective shoulder and rib injuries. This was a much-needed boost for Gold Coast, even if it did force Philip Sami out of the backline, and motivated them into one of their stronger games of the 2020 season, despite a fair few fractured sets that kept the win margin lower than it might have been.

Gold Coast started with two big plays on the left edge, both facilitated by Corey Thompson, but struggled, initially, to capitalise on either. First, Thompson tapped Jamal Fogarty’s opening kick back in field for Brian Kelly, only for the Bulldogs to come up with it, and then he sent Beau Fermor through the line, giving the big second-rower a good sixty metres before he popped the Steeden back inside for AJ Brimson at the ten.

Brimson almost fumbled the footy, slowing down the play-the-ball, and while the next few tackles broke down, Thompson redeemed the set with his third great burst on the left. He got a terrific assist from Ash Taylor, whose cut-out pass caught him square on the chest, but still had a challenge ahead of him with the putdown, ricocheting off the side post as Dallin Watene Zelezniak tried to bump him into touch, before Taylor added the sideline conversion to make it two points per minute.

The Titans were strong on the restart, and were halfway up the park midway through their next set, but conceded their first penalty when Young Tounaimapea tackled Nick Meaney in the air, behind the line, despite having more than enough time to wait until the Canterbury backliner hit the ground to force the dropout. The Dogs thus had the first real burst of field position for either team, and got the first restart off a Fogarty ruck error, but Gold Coast now showed they could defend the left edge just as well.

Tounamaipea made up for his error by stemming the Canterbury momentum with a legs tackle on Will Hopoate, and Anthony Don stormed in to clean up a big hole that opened in front of Kieran Foran, forcing the ex-Warrior to end the set with a crossfield chip to the right edge, where Kerrod Holland leaped up to collect the footy but lost it back to Kelly. Still, Holland got his own back with a huge hit on Kelly, who had to have his right ankle strapped when Meaney stormed in to help complete the tackle.

He left the field only a few seconds later, along with Jaimin Jolliffe, who’d also suffered an ankle injury, leaving Gold Coast with fifteen men on their bench when Moeaiki Fotuiaka and Jai Arrow headed on early in their place. This raised some tricky questions for Justin Holbrook’s interchange strategy, along with the Titans’ left edge attack over the rest of the game – and sure enough, Lewis sent the very next kick to that side of the field, where only Don was waiting to receive it, before the Dogs consolidated.

They key ingredient here was Hopoate, who made big metres up the right sideline, galvanising the Dogs into their most elastic and restless set so far – shifting the Steeden from side to side, and tempting a strip from Arrow ten metres out. They opted to tap and go, as Jeremy Marshall-King glimpsed a hole out of dummy half, ran through it, and offloaded back for Aiden Tolman to barge into three defenders at the right post, only for Hoppa to knock on a wide tap-on from Ofahiki Ogden two plays later.

This was a pretty frustrating way for Hopoate to end all the momentum he’d built on the right edge during this set – and the Titans capitalised immediately, as Mitch Rein sent Sam Stone through the line on play two. Hoppa stopped him within the thirty, and while he couldn’t prevent a rapid play-the-ball, the Titans once again followed a strong break with a meandering set, allowing the Canterbury fullback to get in place, and scoop up Taylor’s grubber, without any problems.

Gold Coast were more consistent on the next set, but less flamboyant, although they got a boost after sending up their first Captain’s Challenge to check whether Don had in fact knocked on during his contest with Meaney, as Chris Sutton called it. If anything, the replay made it look more like Don had got a fingertip to the footy, but the Bunker reversed the on-field decision, giving Gold Coast a fresh set on the Canterbury line.

Jarrod Wallace now got the first great offload away, even if Mitch Rein wasn’t quite ready for it, and Arrow had a strong run on the second, before Lewis made a terrific trysaver on the third, but conceded a restart in the process. For a moment it looked like this set might falter once again, and yet an offload from Taylor to Arrow got them a second wind, before Fermor continued the momentum of his earlier linebreak by chasing down a Fogarty grubber and grounding his first try at stand-in centre.

Even this final sequence hadn’t been all pretty for the Titans – Wallace had almost lost the footy before he shifted it across to Fogarty – while Taylor didn’t make his conversion from the sideline, rendering this brief linkup between Fogarty and Fermor (and the Taylor-Arrow offload that preceded it) all the more precious as a Gold Coast rallying point. Yet the visitors quickly lost their precarious advantage over the new few minutes, with Thompson, Foutaika and Wallace conceding three successive penalties.

The Bulldogs followed Wallace’s penalty – lying in the ruck – with some big questions in the middle of the field, before shifting it left, where Foran sent a rainbow bridge ball out to Meaney on the wing. The no. 2 responded with the best try of the game, pivoting off his left boot to defy Fogarty, and swerving back in field where he got away from Don and Tyrone Peachey to put down the first blue and white points, before converting his own try to make it a four-point affair.

Nevertheless, Gold Coast got one more chance before the break – a cold drop from Holland as he was getting up to play the ball. Fogarty followed with his first big play of the night, receiving the footy out of the scrum, dancing around a Hopoate ankle tap with barely a fend, tricking Meaney with a deft dummy, and curving around Raymond Faitala-Mariner to slam down his second try in two weeks. The Titans wouldn’t get any more conversions, though, as Taylor shanked it from the side to keep his men at 14. 

Two minutes out from the break, Luke Thompson crashed over beneath the posts for what would have been the toughest try of the night if the Bunker hadn’t deemed it a marginal second effort, despite looking like he’d relied on momentum and bounced forward in real time. With a few more minutes on the clock the Dogs might have been able to build on this muscular effort, but Gold Coast held on until they hit the sheds, forcing Canterbury to dig doubly deep to keep this speed and strength after the break.

The other Thompson somersaulted twice to collect the first kick in the face of some big winger-on-winger action from DWZ, but Hoppa was just as good, bringing the next high ball all the way back to the halfway line, and inciting the Titans into a big pack effort to drag Meaney three metres backwards on play two. Still, Tolman added more metres to this set, and Thompson barged into Arrow and Stone for his hardest tackle of the match at the ten, only for Rein to reach out a boot to contain Foran’s kick on the last.

The Titans now reprised their opening left-side switch, but this time Lewis cleaned up Peachey in the middle of the park, and Josh Jackson contained Arrow a tackle later, meaning the play never got out to the left wing, forcing Gold Coast up the middle before Brimson lost it midway through. JMK responded with a good run to the left of the posts, Hoppa collected a wayward pass, and the Bulldogs got the first sustained attacking position of the second stanza when Don was called offside within the ten.

RMF now hit the Steeden at speed beside the posts, and Renouf To’omaga towered a metre and a half across the try line, under the crossbars, drawing in the biggest Gold Coast pack effort of the afternoon. Still, the Dogs struggled with their last-tackle options, as DWZ leaped up to collect a beautiful crossfield bomb from Lewis but spilled it into the defence, galvanising the Titans into their fastest set of the second stanza – and what initially looked like their cleanest and crispest take under the high ball yet.

The play started with a superb Fogarty bomb, and proceeded through a clean catch from Don, who popped it over the attacking Bulldogs for what would have been Wallace’s second try of the season if Tounamaipea hadn’t unintentionally run Meaney off the footy. This was a good chance for the Dogs to absorb Gold Coast’s recent rhythm, as Foran made a half-break and sent Thompson through the line, and yet it all came apart when the big no. 17 passed to Tolman instead of spreading out to the wing.

Like the Titans during the first half, the Bulldogs had fractured after a promising break, so their last-tackle option was even less convincing now – a standard Lewis grubber that Peachey collected with ease. Canterbury survived the next set, however, and got the upper hand at the end of Foran’s next grubber – a beautifully weighted effort that stopped right on the line, where Taylor fumbled it through both hands and only just recovered it before Jake Averillo stormed in, hungry for a try.

The Bulldogs now had the first dropout of the game, and Tolman started by doing what he does best, ploughing up the middle before big carries from To’omago and Thompson brought them to the chalk by the second. With such rapid acceleration, it felt inevitable when Foran crashed over a play later, collecting the footy out of dummy half, dummying twice, and somehow finding space to twist through a Fogarty tackle and cantilever out over the line to land Steeden-first for the second Canterbury try.

Meaney swerved a very kickable conversion away from the left post, but the Dogs had still stamped their signature on this second stanza, so the Titans had to come back big and hard if they were going to maintain the upper hand. They did just that, scoring on their next touch of the football, despite a huge hit from Marcelo Montoya on Fogarty halfway up the field. Everything came together on the last tackle, when Taylor booted through a towering bomb that bounced up three metres before Thompson got to it.

The ex-Tiger put in a second, equally strong kick back to the right corner, where Meaney chased it down, and Don arrived first, somersaulting over the Canterbury no. 2 and curving around to ground the ball behind the posts. There had been three Bulldogs crowding in, so this had initially looked like another late breakdown in play from Gold Coast, meaning that the surprise try felt like their biggest consolidation so far – a tightening of focus and discipline as the final quarter approached.

On the other side of the Steeden, Foran headed down the tunnel with a pec injury after bouncing off Brimson in back play, apparently ruled out for the rest of the Canterbury season, and so unsure of what jersey he’ll put on next time he takes the field. In his absence, Lewis had to take on all the kicking duties, setting up the next Bulldogs try with his best bomb of the second half – so high that it was too dangerous for either the cluster of Canterbury or Gold Coast players to collect on the first bounce.

Instead, Corey Thompson kicked it right on the chalk to concede the last dropout of the match. The Bulldogs forwards did their job clinically on the first four tackles, and swept to the left at just the right time now, where Lewis collected a wide pass from JMK, and traced out a parabolic trajectory to swing around Fogarty, and crash over without Stone getting a hand to him, before another missed conversion from Averillo kept the four-point differential with a little under ten minutes on the clock.  

This was Canterbury’s second try in the second half, and their second try off a dropout. It was slo uncannily similar to Foran’s four points, at least in terms of the position and the disposal of Fogarty as main line of defence. The Bulldogs had an air of consolidation here, then, but they lost steam pretty quickly on the next Gold Coast set, when Dylan Napa’s left knee twisted awkwardly under Matt Doorey, who made friendly fire while trying to complete tackle on Brimson.

After a brief structural examination of his knee, Napa left the field, and was replaced by some late minutes from Jackson. The Dogs never quite recovered from this blow to their momentum, and the only eventful point in the last eight minutes was a Captain’s Challenge from Canterbury – and even then mainly eventful for Fogarty’s frustration at the amount of time the blue and white army took to refer the decision upstairs, rather than for the challenge itself, which was denied in a pretty cut-and-dried way.

Even without their first back-to-back wins of the season, the Titans would have had a pretty good shot against Brisbane in Round 18, but they’ll be even more pumped now to come away the victors in next Saturday night’s Queensland derby at Robina. Meanwhile, this was a tough loss for the Bulldogs, who were the better team for long stretches of the game, so they’ll be looking to rally around their strongest moments here when they host Manly for another ANZ match on Friday night.

About Billy Stevenson (751 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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