With plenty to play for both teams for totally different reasons, the Canterbury Bulldogs came off the bottom of the ladder with a great win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs 26-16.
In Josh Jackson’s 200th NRL game and being Women in League Round, this brought the best out of the Bulldogs.
They led from start to finish with Raymond Faitala-Mariner a powerhouse for the Belmore men.
After just seven minutes, the Bulldogs took an early lead when Jake Averillo slotted a penalty goal.
The first ten minutes saw both teams completing at 100% and the Bulldogs were not far off that mark for the remainder of the match.
The Bulldogs were on a roll early and Tim Lafai scored the first try of the game thirteen minutes into the contest.
Lachlan Lewis kicked crossfield, that saw Jayden Okunbor out-jump Jaxson Paulo knock the ball infield to Lafai.
Showing his strength, Lafai beat two defenders to ground the ball in the in-goal from short range.
Averillo converted from close to the touchline for the Bulldogs to have a handy 8-nil lead.
A turning point and somewhat controversial moment then caused an uproar.
Rabbitohs back-rower Jaydn Su’A was sent to the sin-bin for what the referees deemed a shoulder charge.
The ensuing ten minutes with a man down proved very costly for the Rabbitohs with the Bulldogs crossing for two tries.
Remis Smith was the first one to cross with Su’A missing two minutes later.
Smith proved too powerful for the defenders to plant the ball over the stripe from a backline shift.
Averillo was proving very handy with the boot slotting the conversation for the Bulldogs to extend their lead even more.
Okunbor was again the target on the last tackle, this time Averillo was the one kicking crossfield.
On this occasion, he found Faitala-Mariner who used clever footwork from short range to score the Bulldogs third try of the match.
Averillo kicked the simplest of conversions for the Bulldogs to lead 20-0 with just under fifteen minutes remaining in the half.
The Rabbitohs needed to get on the board before the break to stay in the game and that they did.
South Sydney received a penalty for a player being tackled without the ball eight minutes from the break.
They worked the ball downfield and through a great tip on by Cody Walker the flying winger, Jaxson Paulo proved too quick for the Bulldogs defence.
Replays showed that Paulo was lucky to be awarded the try due to his foot touching the touch-in-goal line before grounding the ball.
Adam Reynolds missed the conversion from the touch-line to bridge the gap to sixteen points with not long left on the clock until the break.
Just before the break, Corey Allan was denied a try for pushing a Bulldogs player in the back while trying to gain possession of the ball.
The Rabbitohs never gave up on trying to get another try before the interval and with two minutes remaining, Campbell Graham scored his 9th try in his last 6 games.
A backline shift saw Corey Allan throw a lovely pass off his bootlaces to find Graham who showed too much class to score.
Reynolds converted to have the Rabbitohs only trailing by ten points at the break.
The Rabbitohs could have been the first on the scoreboard early on in the second half but Graham was denied a second try of the match.
There would be no denying the cardinal and myrtle later, though, with Alex Johnston crossing for his 50th NRL try at ANZ Stadium.
Another clever pass by Walker found Johnston who had a clear run to the line to bring the Rabbitohs right back into the game.
Reynolds who makes a habit of kicking sideline conversions had no trouble with his kick to have the Rabbitohs back to within four points of the Bulldogs.
With fifteen minutes left in the match, Chris Smith scored his first NRL try in what proved to be the defining moment.
Brandon Wakeham kicked for a Bulldogs chaser as Johnston failed to retrieve the ball and the ball was bouncing towards the dead ball line.
Smith raced through and was able to ground the ball inches inside the line to give the Bulldogs a very handy lead.
This lead was extended even further when Wakeham kicked the easy conversion from adjacent to the posts.
The Rabbitohs had plenty of opportunities in the last fifteen minutes to score through penalties and possession inside the Bulldogs half.
They bombed a certain try to Cartwright with ten minutes remaining but they were denied through great defence from William Hopoate.
Wakeham tried to extend the Bulldogs lead out to more than two converted tries but he missed a penalty goal due to the Rabbitohs being penalised for obstruction.
The Bulldogs last-ditch defence was a key factor in the Bulldogs putting an end to their losing streak.
Bulldogs coach Steve Georgallis said he was so proud of his players and that the win was seven weeks in the making.
“That was seven weeks in the making, that game. I’m just so proud of the 17 players,” Georgallis said.
“We had a few injuries there, lost Lachie Lewis [to a head knock] with his kicking game, Jake [Averillo] played injured that whole second half [with a quad strain].
“To the kid’s credit, he stayed on the football field.”
Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett lamented his side’s attitude issues, believing the side may have underestimated the Bulldogs.
“I didn’t see it coming but again if you underestimate your opponent and don’t have enough respect for them you find yourself in that situation, that’s what we did,” Bennett said.
“The indications would be that they thought it was going to be a bit easier than what it was.
“I think it’s more of an attitude problem.
“We gave them a 20-point start then decided we’d get ourselves back in the contest and the scoreboard ended up being 16-6 for the next 60 minutes.”
NRL News Player of the Game
3 – Raymond Faitala-Mariner
2 – William Hopoate
1 – Cody Walker