The Bulldogs broke with the no-meat tradition on Good Friday, dining out on a brave but ultimately braised Rabbitohs outfit with a thrilling 15-14 win at ANZ Stadium.
With 43,255 fans on the edge of their seats, Trent Hodkinson again proved himself the man for the occasion with a 78th-minute field goal after the Rabbits had threatened to turn on an Easter miracle of their own, leading for all but two minutes despite a dressing shed looking like a scene from M*A*S*H for much of the encounter.
It was déjà vu for the Dogs, after Hodkinson booted a penalty goal and field goal to deliver them victory over the Warriors last week.
Souths led the Bulldogs 8-0 at half-time and then 14-6 with 15 minutes remaining, but in the end succumbed to the fact they had to play more than half the match with just 16 barely fit men. Forwards Kyle Turner (concussion), Dave Tyrrell (head knock) and Joe Picker (ribs) all made brave comebacks despite being significantly worse for wear, while hooker Apisai Koroisau never returned from a shoulder injury sustained midway through the first half.
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It was the boot of Hodkinson that proved the difference with three from three off the tee, including two sideline conversions, as well as the 20-metre field goal that sealed the deal, as the Bulldogs overran the Rabbitohs with two second-half tries to wingers Mitch Brown and Corey Thompson.
In a scrappy first half where both sides attack burnt like damp wood - plenty of smoke but little fire - errors and penalties flowed freely, with nine of each being recorded by the half-hour mark.
Souths finally broke the monotony of attacking opportunites being squandered when they bit the bullet in the 31st minute and halfback Adam Reynolds knocked over a penalty from bang in front for yet another Bulldogs ruck infringement.
Just minutes later Bulldogs second-rower Dale Finucane was placed on report for a lifting tackle that was deemed dangerous as the referees followed the NRL’s mid-week edict to crack down on such tackles. From the following set Souths forward leader Sam Burgess proved too strong for Hodkinson and Sam Perrett from close to the line three minutes out from the break, barging over and sending the Rabbitohs into the break up 8-0.
The Bulldogs finally got themselves on the board in the 52nd minute when a left-side shift gave winger Mitch Brown a half a metre of space outside his opposite Nathan Merritt, and the winger made no mistake in touching down with an impressive full-length dive, matched only by the pin-point sideline conversion from Hodkinson to reduce the deficit to two with 25 minutes remaining.
As in the first half though, when they completed just 63 per cent of their sets, the Dogs handed the advantage straight back to the depleted home side when they failed to field the ensuing kick-off and an Adam Reynolds grubber forced the Bulldogs to defend their line for another repeat set.
Bulldogs fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when their defence held strong, but John Sutton was not to be denied 10 minutes later when the skipper barged his way through with 15 minutes remaining, with Reynolds converting to leave the Rabbitohs up 14-6.
The match took another turn when a right-side switch from the Bulldogs put Thompson over for a contentious try in the right corner, with video referee Luke Phillips deeming Sutton wasn’t impeded by decoy runner Josh Jackson.
Hodkinson again nailed the conversion from the touchline to again bring the margin back to two and a 72nd-minute penalty goal left both sides with 14 points apiece, before Hodkinson iced the win with his second match-winning drop punt in as many weeks.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 15 (M Brown C Thompson tries; Hodkinson 3 goals, Hodkinson field goal) defeated South Sydney Rabbitohs 14 (S Burgess, J Sutton tries, A Reynolds 3 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 43,255.