ROUND 8: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v. Sydney Roosters (Accor Stadium, 30/4/22, 16-12)

As if this afternoon’s Raiders-Warriors golden point battle wasn’t dramatic enough, the Bulldogs came away with their second and best win of the season at Homebush tonight in a win that was almost as emotionally intense as the Wests Tigers’ first field goal victory over Parramatta. Like Luke Brooks, Canterbury had been subjected to intense media scrutiny in the wake of last Friday’s loss to the Broncos, with Gus Gould raising eyebrows when he made the decision to join Trent Barrett during coaching sessions.

Yet this injection of executive motivation may have been what the Dogs needed to garner their first win over the Roosters since Round 7 2016. No doubt the Chooks were off tonight, with Joey Manu only making four runs, no Daniel Tupou, and Adam Keighran starting in the centres for the first time this year, meaning they relied more than usual on James Tedesco for the playmaking. As brilliant as Teddy is, however, he can’t do everything, and there were too many occasions when his team mates weren’t there to build on his visionary leadership.

Manu’s absence was especially notable, and hard to read, although he may have been spooked by Burton, who deliberately ricocheted the kick off him a couple of times in the first stanza. He glimpsed catharsis in the dying moments of the game, when he got up in Aaron Schoupp’s face to flex on an apparent Joseph Suaalii putdown, but in one of the best reversals of the year, the try was denied to grant Canterbury game. That was Sydney’s night in a nutshell, with two of their three previous tries coming off unchecked errors.

On the other side of the Steeden, Josh Ado-Carr was immense in possibly his biggest game in the blue and white so far. He scored the opening two tries, the first a stealth play from close range and the second a Storm-like run down the length of the park, and continued to rally his men in the second half, when Matt Burton bounced back from a brief Sydney surge with one of the most damaging 40/20s of the season, before delivering the defence needed to turn a 77th minute Joseph Suaalii crossover into the most dramatic denied try this season.  

Lindsay Collins took the opening carry, Kevin Naiqama had an early touch on tackle two, and Luke Keary kicked from just outside his own forty. Fresh off his first double in Canterbury colours, Josh Ado-Carr was up to the wobbly high ball, and combined with the shallowness of Keary’s strike, Kyle Flanagan was in place to take his first one thirty-five metres out. It wasn’t raining, but the turf was still wet from the afternoon showers, meaning the footy was wet also, so James Tedesco needed two shots to secure it after it left Flanno’s boot.

The Dogs continued to accumulate early position when Jeremy Marshall-King burst up the right edge on tackle one of the next set, giving them a full stint inside the thirty. Most of the attacking options were easily contained by Sydney, but Matt Burton’s boot did the job on the last, even though neither of his two kicks were especially spectacular. The first came off the side of the shoe, and ricocheted out to the left edge, where the Foxx did well to tap it back; the second should have been cleaned up easily by Joey Manu, who knocked on instead.

Canterbury now had a scrum from the ten, and got more position with a Victor Radley offside, but a Luke Thompson cough-up abruptly brought this early bout of position to an end, as Sitili Tupouniua galvanised the Sydney attack with a strong hard charge up the middle. Keary kicked under pressure, reaching Ado-Carr inside the ten, and Radley made up for his error with a strong opening tackle. Even then, though, the Bulldogs were restless for position, as the Foxx mirrored JMK with a dexterous (if slightly shorter) dash up the right sideline.

Burton took the kick again this time, but Naiqama read it perfectly, catching the footy on the run before the Roosters got their first burst of field position when Tevita Pangai was called offside in the ten. Sam Walker delivered a flat ball for Angus Crichton to break the ten, injecting the adrenalin Sydney needed to sweep it across to the left wing, where Walker grubbered through the line and Jake Averillo saved a try from Tupouniua at the death, only just lobbing the Steeden from Sitili’s grasp before they came up with a simultaneous putdown.

Canterbury got the ball back, and for a second time Radley gifted them more position after finding himself more than six metres offside on the next play. No sooner had Teddy recovered a Flanno kick, and Thommo conceded an offside of his own on the first tackle, than Matt Dufty managed to bring back the kick to the sideline, curving an inch away from the chalk to set about another bout of attack in the Sydney half. Targeting Manu, Burton orchestrated a perfect ricochet to get his men the scrum feed they needed to consolidate.

After so much time down the Roosters’ end, the Dogs had to score now or else concede the momentum back to the hosts. They shifted immediately to the left, where Dufty took a big charge, Aaron Schoupp tried to crash over at dummy half, and Max King failed to get a late offload through three defenders, before the visitors got yet another six again, and the Foxx proved his name with the stealthiest try of Round 8 so far. Scooping the footy out of dummy half, he realised Manu was neither at marker nor in the line, and accelerated immediately.

For the third time tonight, Manu was dishevelled by the Bulldogs’ attack, while Keary was unable to wrap himself around Ado-Carr in time to prevent the grounding either. For the third straight week, too, the Foxx had scored in the blue and white, and made it a double with an even more spectacular try at the end of a bout of Roosters field position that came straight off Burton’s missed conversion. The Dogs conceded a dropout, Corey Waddell got done for dangerous contact, JMK infringed the ruck and a Jayden Okunbor error made it a quartet.

As the Roosters packed a scrum from the ten, they felt close to a consolidation point, destined to score on the first few plays, so it was a massive turnaround when Ado-Carr intercepted a harbour bridge ball from Walker to the right edge before the Chooks had completed a tackle. The take was a sight to behold, as the Foxx leaped, reached out his left hands, popped the footy even higher in the air, as if remaking the game in his own image, before gathering it in both arms, tucking it under his left elbow, and setting his sights on the other end of the park.

All this happened without Ado-Carr breaking his stride, so his acceleration up the sideline was sublime, leaving Crichton and Suaalii so far in his wake that he even had time to swerve back in field and beat Radley as well, setting up Burton for his first conversion of the evening. This was starting to look embarrassing for the Roosters, who survived the restart, but had to deliver something special on their next couple of sets to avoid losing control of the last sixteen minutes before the break, since there was no doubt the Dogs were on a roll now.

What they didn’t need was for Suaalii to make contact with Dufty in the air – mild contact, to be sure, although that didn’t matter once Schoupp took the first hit thirty metres out from his own line, and glimpsed a break in the process. Pangai muscled it up the middle in only his second run of the match, before Burton flicked it out for the Foxx to ricochet it off Manu once again – a good flex for Canterbury, but in some ways a wasted play, since Burton had a better option with Schoupp. In any case, the Bulldogs were ten out, and looked good to score again.

They spent the first part of the set on the right edge, where Pangai took a third run, restless to add more metres to the game, but the Chooks read his intentions well, while Manu got some revenge by slamming into Burton at the very moment he received it out on the left. Schoupp came up with the ball behind him, but it was called forward, and the Roosters got what nobody would have expected they’d need at this point in the match – a let-off – before Pangai let his aggro spill over with a childish push into Keighran’s back.  

Crichton was in the red zone midway through, and once again Tupouniua galvanised his men with a rousing run, before Keary chipped it from right to left on the last, where Keighran and Okunbor met again, this time in the air, and Keighran came away the loser, since the replay showed he’d got a hand to the footy before the Dogs finally bumped it over the back line. Like so many moments tonight, luck had gone Canterbury’s way, pumping Thommo into a barnstorming run up the middle, and Burton into his most towering bomb of the night.

The kick didn’t have much depth on it, but the bounce was a shocker, ricocheting at 45 degrees away from Suaalii, and defying Burton himself as he competed with Manu for it on the sideline. In one of the poorest challenges this year, the Foxx sent it upstairs in an attempt to prove that Suaalii had got a touch in the air, but the replay showed just how dexterously the young backliner had pulled back both hands from the play. Things accelerated quickly now, as Crichton offloaded through two defenders to put Keary into open space.

Keary made it all the way to the Canterbury thirty, where he shifted it across for Teddy to break the ten, as Dufty slammed in for a tough low tackle. Pangai was called offside, Billy Tsikrikas was put on report for a hip drop on Tupouniua, who’d been taken out of this last passage of play, and Suaalii followed his discipline beneath Burton’s bomb with his messiest period of the game. It started out on the right edge, where he got Walker’s harbour bridge ball with no intercept this time, but spilled it over the sideline after not quite arriving in time.

Teddy continued to lead with another strong kick return at the start of the next set, almost busting through the line up the right, and adding to his already hundred-plus run tally, only for Suaalii to put it down a play later in the midst of a Tsikikras-Thompson tackle. He asked his captain for a challenge, but to no avail, reaching his lowest point of the night only to peak just as quickly, when he outleaped Ado-Carr, the only tryscorer so far, to rein in a chip to the wing. Despite the huge contest, he maintained possession, and got a clean grounding.

This first half of football had been defined by the Foxx’s speed and height, so seeing Suaalii outplay him was a critical motivator for the Roosters, especially since it came on the back of a Dufty penalty for backchat. Walker shanked the sideline conversion off the side of the boot, so we were at a six-point game as the siren rang out – a sobering prospect for both teams, for different reasons, as the Chooks stared down a deficit against the bottom ranked outfit in the comp, and the Dogs steeled themselves for the win that could supercharge their season.

If there was any question that the Roosters were out of sync, it was confirmed a minute into the second stanza, when they got the first scrum off a JMK error, and abruptly wasted it with a forward pass from Walker to Crichton on play one. They got another let-off with a standard Burton bomb, and opted for some more direct attack, culminating with a big run up the middle from Radley, but the Dogs still came up with it, as Ado-Carr spun through a Nat Butcher tackle, and Pangai built more metres with an offload for Dufty to work it up the right edge.

Once there, however, he spilled it over the sideline, and this time that Roosters had to do better with the scrum. Crichton took the opening charge, as if to consign that forward ball from Walker to the past, but couldn’t quite break through Burton to reach the twenty on tackle two. Waddell came in to help, and was barking that Crichton had fumbled the play-the-ball, but it was too late by the time that Teddy took a short ball from Sam Verrills and made good on his probing energy by busting through a couple of tackles on the right wing.

That was all it took for him to curve around and score behind the posts, in the first really emphatic failure for the Canterbury defence, although even then Keighran didn’t manage to add the extras, keeping the Bulldogs two points ahead on the cusp of the fiftieth minute. The Roosters used the restart to rack up field position, keeping the Dogs in their own thirty for the subsequent set, although Burton did well to boot it halfway into the Sydney City ten by the time Suaalii took it on the ground, as Trent Barrett looked on, animated, from the sideline.

In keeping with the unpredictable rhythm of this match, Tupouniua coughed up the footy late in yet another set where Manu didn’t get a touch, as Ado-Carr made inroads up the left, and Burton tried to rescue a couple of average attacking options but only came up with a standard bomb that Teddy took clean while garnering aerial contact from Averillo in the process. Still, the Roosters didn’t feel like themselves as they drifted more than drove the Steeden up the park, as the chasers ended up on the ground and Okunbor took Walker’s kick with no issues.

This had initially looked like it might be one of the toughest contests since the break, so seeing it dissolve into nothing spoke volumes of the Roosters’ reduced form tonight, especially when Burton capped it off with a torpedo 40/20. It landed a metre outside the thirty, but had enough spin to do the job, and Paul Vaughan bottled that energy by slamming into the line at close range, before Dufty showed the Roosters how to make the lofted pass to the right wing work wonders, with a beautiful ball that Okunbor caught with only a metre to spare.

It was a clutch putdown, but it didn’t look that way, since Okunbor was as calm and collected here as he had been under Walker’s last kick, an even more remarkable demeanor in that he totally defied Naiqama at close range to effectively score untouched. Burton had only sent through a single sideline conversion this year, but he got his best strike of 2022 now, sliding it inside the left post to double Sydney City at 16-8. Even better, the Dogs got an augmented restart, off Ado-Carr’s best brinksmanship of the game.

Seeing the kickoff was set to hit the sideline, he pulled his boot back just enough to let it pass, only leaving a centimetre to spare between gaining and conceding a penalty. Suaalii did well to hold him up midway through the next carry, on the left edge, but it came with another Canterbury restart, and then another, as Vaughan hung over the line beside the right post. Yet he couldn’t steel his men into a try on this set, despite an equally strong charge from Pangai up the left, and another instalment in the Burton-Manu show.

Gathering the white line fever into one of his trademark loping runs, the ex-Panther looked set to cross for all money, or at least create an opportunity for someone else, only for Manu to wake up with a tough legs tackles that probably constituted his best play of the last sixty minutes. Keighran followed with his own best play of the night when he took a Flanno crossfield chip under big pressure from Joe Stimson, as a suite of interchanges – Radley for Taukeiaho, King for Tsikrikas, and Hutchison for Verrills – ushered in the final quarter.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, as Tedesco spearheaded the Roosters’ most plosive accumulation of field position so far with a massive charge up field and a near-break. He was brought down at the forty, with no support, but Keary still parlayed this momentum into a strong crossfield run, and Manu made a few more up the right, before a sweep back to the left set up Radley and Teddy to set up second and third phase respectively. Finally, Keary brought it all together with a sharp grubber that Schoupp only just batted into touch.

Burton went low for the dropout, and for a moment it looked like Keighran had lost it in the air, although a good challenge showed that the Dogs had knocked on first. No sooner had the Roosters glimpsed this acceleration, however, than Collins lost the footy a few plays off the scrum, meaning their next set, which started with a massive Burton boot, was critical in reasserting themselves over the last fifteen minutes. Fresh off the bench, Hutchison took a run out of dummy half on the last, but it all ended with a JWH putdown.

For the second time in as many minutes, the Chooks sent it upstairs, and the contrast couldn’t have been more different to the last. At first, it seemed clear that big Jared had knocked it on; then, the Bunker confirmed that he’d flicked it forward and saved it back; and finally, they determined that there had been a third knock-on. It was already a desperation challenge, but with this comedy of errors the rhythm was even more in Canterbury’s end, as the blue and white army packed the scrum, and steadied themselves for the last chapter of the game.

By this stage, the Roosters were relying on Tedesco for playmaking, especially given Manu’s quietness, and while he set up some second and third phase on the left on the next set, it was too much to ask him to take on kicking duties as well, as Schoupp grabbed his jersey and preventing him getting boot to ball. On the other side of the Steeden, Averillo came from the park a set later for an HIA, and Pangai came back off the bench, forcing the Bulldogs into a backline reshuffle on the brink of the last ten minutes.  

The Dogs hadn’t scored more than sixteen in 2022, and were sitting on sixteen now, as they ground in to defend Manu’s third run of the night, and then conceded six again in their own red zone. This felt like a tipping-point, as Teddy continued to wreak havoc up the left edge, JWH took a drive at the line, and the Chooks spread right, where Keary followed Walker with the second forward pass since the break, again to Crichton, to get Canterbury off the hook.  Burton booted it long to secure position, and his men were that little bit closer to the win.

Again, Teddy found space up the left, offloading on his knees to Walker as the Roosters waited in vain for a call of held. Crichton mirrored him with an offload just before he hit the deck at the ten, and for a second time the Roosters scored off an unchecked error, moving through at least one forward pass before Keary booted it out to the left, where Okunbor got hands to it, but could only tap it back into a maelstrom of defenders that ended with Tupouniua taking it on the bounce and sneaking over to score on the wing.

This was already an emotion-packed game, but it reached the next level at the end of the restart, when Manu finally delivered a trademark play, ferrying the footy up the right edge, where he drew in and palmed off Schoupp for Suaalii to cross on the wing. After so much pressure, and such a frustrating game, the Roosters (and Manu in particular) were flexing here, but that just made it all the more remarkable when we got a very late call that the try was going to be scrutinised by the Bunker.

First we looked for obstructions, then we examined Burton’s defence, and finally attention narrowed to Suaalii’s right boot, where careened over the sideline a millisecond before he got the tip of the Steeden down, in the same corner of the stadium where Hazel El Masri thought he was held in the 2004 grand final. After the Roosters had scored two tries off errors, this was pure catharsis for the Dogs, and yet the adrenalin of it all was enough to sustain the Chooks by the time they tumbled into their next set.  

Teddy had reached 250 run metres by the kick return, and Radley brokered that energy into a mad dash from short range, straight through Pangai and Bailey Biondi-Oto, with his eyes set on the posts. It was the kind of play that would normally consolidate Sydney City, but instead Pangai forced the footy free, while the Dogs finished a back half in which they’d only enjoyed 22% of possession with a slow steady set to bring the Steeden out of their own end, leaving Suaalii and Teddy wih only one play to do the impossible.

Schoupp was beating his chest when the siren rang out, and the rest of the players were just as amped up, since this was truly epic football – rugby league at its best – and a scintillating sequel to the Canberra-New Zealand golden point battle earlier in the afternoon. After a week of constant media scrutiny, Canterbury have come away with a good enough win to propel the middle third of their season, so it’s going to be a must-watch match when they rock up to face a Raiders outfit burned by their field goal loss in the nation’s capital next week.

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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