Whilst much of the rugby league world wrote off the Bulldogs’ chances as they travelled to Melbourne to face the undefeated Storm, somebody forgot to tell 17 men in blue and white that they were no hope whatsoever.
Off the back of a stunning victory over the Tigers in Round 3, Canterbury headed to the southern capital with many feeling that the duel with Cameron Smith’s Storm would expose some of the frailties within their young squad.
In fact, it displayed the very same qualities that lie at the heart of the Bulldogs’ culture. The Storm were jumped early by an enthusiastic and fearless opponent, one that matched their physical presence and skill level.
A try to Kerrod Holland in the 5th minute stunned the home side and when Jayden Okunbor crossed in the 23rd, the Storm were well and truly on the back foot. The southerners were down 12-0 to a team they were tipped to take to the cleaners and defeat comprehensively.
A dubious decision gifted the Storm a converted try in the 32nd minute and the Bulldogs took a 12-6 lead into the sheds at the break. With new recruit Dylan Napa injured and removed from the battle after 16 minutes, Canterbury not only faced the might of the unbeaten Storm on their own patch, but they did so without one of their key men up front.
For many, it potentially signalled the opening of the floodgates and the comfortable victory so many had predicted for Melbourne. Instead, the Bulldogs dug in with the spirit and passion that defines the club and it’s history.
As the Storm wrestled and grappled their way through the centre of the park (they do it better than anyone) the Bulldogs’ defence held firm. Holland played his best game for the season and his defensive reads appeared much improved. Okunbor starred once again with an astonishing 290 metres and 3 line breaks to further announce himself to the rugby league world.
How long before other clubs begin sniffing around the manager of the man who looks like being one of the finds of the season. Jack Cogger made an excellent debut for the club. He was barraged on the fringe in defence and held his own against the machine like Storm attack.
In the engine room, Aiden Tolman tried to fill the void that the absence of Napa created; with strong runs and a whopping 47 tackles. Adam Elliott played strongly off the bench and Rhyse Martin ran for 150 metres and made 31 tackles, in what was a polished 80 minute display.
The Storm equalised after 55 minutes via a converted try. A cheeky dart from Cameron Munster in the 69th minute brought another four pointer and the ensuing conversion set up an 18-12 lead for the home side.
It was heart breaking for the Bulldogs; having invested so much and once against received a bit of good old fashioned rotten luck along the way. However, there is no give up in the DNA of the Bulldogs, and after some razzle dazzle attack, Reimis Smith planted the ball over the try line, three metres in from the corner post, to set up a grandstand finish. A successful conversion would send the match to golden point.
Rather oddly and suspiciously, the ball was place just a metre or so from the sideline for Martin’s conversion attempt and from the most difficult of angles for a right footer, he sprayed the kick well wide.
Bulldog heads went down, yet their fans rose from their lounge chairs and applauded. This was a team supposedly destined for the wooden spoon, written off and rubbish according to bad judges such as Paul Crawley, as a reserve grade team.
Well, the Bulldogs showed the entire rugby league community that they are far from a spent force in 2019. They may be just pups yet the youngest roster has one distinct advantage.
Youth brings opportunity and enthusiasm. If Canterbury-Bankstown are able to muster the same levels of those qualities, such as they displayed against the Storm on Sunday, 2019 will be year of success and more wins that the ‘experts’ predicted.
Melbourne Storm 18 Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 16