The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have registered a brilliant come from behind 22-16 victory against the Titans at Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast.
There are must win matches and then there are must win matches. This one loomed as season defining for both clubs; placed equal bottom of the ladder with the hapless Panthers, a win for either would keep their season alive, albeit on life support.
With so much on the line, it was the home side that showed initial purpose and precision. Dropped balls from Dylan Napa and Will Hopoate saw the Titans build an early lead in the blink of an eye.
Two penalty goals added to their mounting tally and when Ash Taylor converted the second of the penalty attempts in the 18th minute, the Bulldogs trailed 16-0.
The usually stellar blue and white completion rate took a hit in the opening half with handling errors the root cause of the Titans’ quick start and early lead.
The penalties also flowed in the direction of the home side and the visitors did well to scrap and hang on without further points being added.
Canterbury held the Titans scoreless for around eight minutes and slowly began to access better field position. When Kieran Foran grubber kicked through the defensive line in the 26th minute, Marcelo Montoya was on hand to brilliantly collect the bouncing ball low down and plant the first step on the Bulldog’s comeback path.
The try was converted and within minutes Foran sent Jayden Okunbor down the left flank before the big man cut back inside and found the line under the posts.
After the calamity of the first 20 minutes, the Bulldogs had turned disaster to opportunity and went to the sheds feeling chuffed with the 12-16 deficit.
It was another in what is becoming a long line of impressive games for Okunbor, with 182 run metres and two line breaks that had the right edge defence of the Titans under pressure throughout the match.
It was to be his second try after 20 minutes of tight second half action that would level the scores. With Rhyse Martin playing just 17 minutes from the bench, the kicking duties fell to Nick Meaney. His slipper continued its perfect record to that point and astonishingly, the Bulldogs had the lead by 2.
There was to be just one more try in the match and it could not have fallen to a more fitting player. Jack Cogger kicked well throughout the contest, played a perfect foil to Foran and slipped through some jersey grabbing defence to cross the line in the 71st minute.
Whilst Aiden Tolman was again superb up front with 45 tackles and 152 run metres, it is Cogger who would be my pick for the Bulldogs’ player of the season thus far.
With seven first grade matches under his belt in blue and white, Cogger, a man who came to Sydney looking for opportunity and a chance to prove to the NRL community that he had plenty to offer, has made a spot in the halves his own.
The fact that Cogger has the blue and white in his blood only makes his success even more satisfying for passionate Bulldogs fans.
Despite Rhyse Martin being on the field, Meaney continued with the kicking duties and struck the post with his shot; missing the chance to extend the lead to a comfortable eight points.
However, it was not to matter, despite some hairy moments late in the game as the Titans threw all they had at the Bulldogs in search of an equaliser.
The 11-5 penalty count against the Bulldogs was a mountain to climb, as was a poor completion rate of just 76%. Yet in true Bulldog spirit, the side that Dean Pay has backed to get the result over the last two weeks held on and secured a morale boosting win.
For one of the few times this season, the problematic left edge defence leaked nothing, with Marcelo Montoya now stamping his right to the centre position alongside Okunbor. It is great to see people take opportunities when granted and Montoya has done little wrong since being recalled to the side.
Danny Fualalo ran strongly for 130 metres and played his best game for the club, whilst Josh Jackson (39) and Jeremy Marshall-King (43) continued their warrior-like defence around the ruck.
Bulldog fans were as proud as punch on Saturday night after witnessing a performance full of spirit and skill.
Travelling back to Belmore for a clash with the Storm in Round 11 provides the team with an opportunity to make another significant statement.
After going close to knocking off the Storm in Round 4, the spirit of Belmore could lift the Bulldogs next weekend.
It would be a landmark win, should Pay’s young side knock off Craig Bellamy’s men in front of their home fans.
Gold Coast Titans 16 Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 22