The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have slumped to their 5th defeat of the season in a 14-6 Good Friday loss to the South Sydney Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium.
In a match that always attracts the fans and usually produces some fireworks on the field, this version of the now traditional, long weekend rivalry was a little different.
From a footballing perspective, it should have been an easy win for the Bunnies. A quick start and the possession dominance that sapped energy from the Canterbury defenders for much of the match had Souths looking likely to skip away at some point.
The Rabbitohs were in front within three minutes after Campbell Graham crossed out wide and the signs looked ominous for the blue and whites. To their credit, the Bulldogs settled despite a rampant Souths team enjoying excellent field position and Damien Cook scheming from dummy half.
Ofahiki Ogden crashed over and Kerrod Holland’s conversion levelled the scores at six, before Adam Reynolds re-established the Bunnies lead after 23 minutes with a penalty goal.
A 26th minute converted try further extended their lead and the cardinal and myrtle headed to the break with a 14-6 lead.
To say the mood in the stands was tense would be an understatement. The officials were weak in controlling the ruck area and both sides were consistently inside the ten metres.
The Bulldogs had a try dubiously denied after Kerrod Holland appeared to have scored from a first half kick. The on-field decision was overturned after a mountain of replays convinced the bunker that Holland had infringed.
Fan frustration grew further in the second half when Reimis Smith was penalised for a supposed infringement in a wonderful 70 metre chase and subsequent try saving tackle in the corner.
The longer the match went, the more and more it appeared that the Bulldogs could not take a trick. With possession running near 70-30 in favour of the Rabbitohs, the Bulldogs were forced to defend for lengthy periods. Aiden Tolman was simply superb with 47 tackles and 155 run metres.
Injuries added to the monumental challenge they faced. Nick Meaney suffered a nasty cut to a finger and Adam Elliott will have scans this week to determine the full extent of the rib injury he picked up during the match.
Josh Jackson aided Tolman in locking up the centre corridor with 48 tackles of his own and Rhyse Martin bounced back to form after a disappointing day against the Dragons in Round 5.
The match did eventually begin to turn midway through the second half and the Bulldogs looked likely to score. However, ball control and fundamental errors played a key role in their ultimate defeat and with enough chances to set up a grand stand finish, the Bulldogs will rue some basic errors.
The defensive reads of Holland appeared much improved and despite a few hairy moments in the first half, young Jayden Okunbor managed to settle and once again ran for in excess of 100 metres. Will Hopoate topped that statistical category for Canterbury with 186 metres from a total of 20 runs.
Young halves Jack Cogger and Lachlan Lewis failed to find time and space and the Canterbury attack lacked fluency on a frustrating day. The officiating played a key role in that fact, with neither side able to free up their attack thanks to painfully slow play the balls and limited space between the teams thanks to constant off-side play.
The result continued the inconsistent performances of the Bulldogs over the first six rounds. With some embarrassing losses and brave efforts, Dean Pay will be looking to flatten out their form line as the season moves into it’s second quarter.
The Cowboys are next in Round 7 at ANZ Stadium, in what looms as another chance for the Bulldogs to get their season kick started.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 6 South Sydney Rabbitohs 14