The Bulldogs showed what they are capable of tonight; turning on some sublime attack at various stages to take themselves to a 30-22 victory over an ill-disciplined Cronulla Sharks team at ANZ Stadium tonight. With Sonny Bill Williams in an unusually firey mood, the Bulldogs rode on the back of his new found passion and threw early tries got themselves into a unassailable position.It was a welcome return to form for the struggling Bulldogs outfit of season â€™08, scoring five tries to four in an otherwise scrappy encounter.
It was a fitting send-off for Canterbury fullback Cameron Phelps who leaves for Wigan this week to take up a lucrative contract with the UK-based glamour club, with the skilful utilityâ€™s last gasp defence shutting down numerous Sharks attacking raids.
Cronulla were their own worst enemies, failing to control possession and given away silly penalties to allow the Bulldogs to storm out to a match-winning 18-4 lead.
The Sharks showed that they were ready to play by opening their account in the fifth minute; utility Fraser Anderson crashing through a Daryl Millard attempted tackle off the back of a sweeping Sharks backline movement.Canterbury were quick to reply with their own free-flowing attacking raid, this time the ball travelling through five sets of hands before rookie centre Tim Winitana flashed over in the 14th minute.
In his first game back from injury, goal-kicking winger Hazem El Masri converted magnificently from the sideline to hand the Bulldogs a 6-4 advantage.
The home side extended their lead just six minutes later thanks to a brilliant solo effort from Daniel Holdsworth, the makeshift five-eight brushing aside two defenders on a damaging thirty metre burst.
Another El Masri conversion from a wide angle saw the home side push out to a surprise 12-4 lead, with the Sharks finding the going tough due to injuries to fullback Brett Seymour and hooker Isaac De Gois.
With Cronulla failing to control the football, the Bulldogs took full advantage with their third try inside the opening half hour, with backrower Sonny Bill Williams stepping through three tiring Sharks defenders to score a crucial try given the context of the match.And the accuracy of El Masriâ€™s kicking boot wasnâ€™t helping Cronullaâ€™s comeback chances, with the plucky Bulldogs wingers third conversion making it 18-4 at the break.
Canterbury started where they left off early in the second half, Winitana crossing for his second try off some quick hands from his inside support to push the home side out to a handy 24-4 lead after 46 minutes.
Sharks prop Danny Nutley gave the visitorâ€™s some hope when he charged onto a short ball from Paul Gallen to barge over, with Brett Seymourâ€™s conversion making it 24-10 in the 50th minute.
With the match threatening to erupt thanks to some niggle between Sonny Bill and Greg Bird, the Sharks composed themselves long enough to allow Brett Kimmorley to score off a majestic Bird grubber kick.
Seymourâ€™s second conversion made it game on at 24-16 inside the final 20 minutes.
But the Sharks poor ball control and discipline looked to have cost them their third straight victory when Andrew Ryan stormed onto a precision Reni Maitua pass to stumble thirty metres and score, with El Masriâ€™s perfect record continuing to make it 30-16 in the 62nd minute.
A 68th minute try to Cronulla centre Ben Pomeroy kept the Sharks within reach at 30-22, but again their lack of discipline prevented them from adding further points.
Canterbury Bulldogs 30
Tries: Tim Winitana 2, Daniel Holdsworth, Sonny Bill Williams, Andrew Ryan
Goals: Hazem El Masri 5
Cronulla Sharks 22
Tries: Fraser Anderson, Danny Nutley, Brett Kimmorley, Ben Pomeroy
Goals: Brett Seymour 3
At ANZ Stadium
Referee â€“ Tony Archer