Bulldogs 34 def Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 12
WHAT a difference an off-season makes!
Last year’s wooden spooners the Bulldogs tore strips off the reigning premiers and World Club Champions, with superboot and genuine nice guy Hazem El Masri becoming the game’s greatest ever point-scorer in the process.
Sure the Sea Eagles had minor excuses, what with all the off-field drama going on, but even without said issues there would be no guarantee they would have beaten the new ’Dogs of 2009.
With a host of new faces and a new coach, the Bulldogs showed enough grit and flair in appalling conditions to lift their fans’ spirits to the stratosphere, albeit at this very early stage of the season.
With rain, thunder and lightning hammering down the Bulldogs went wide at every opportunity, flirting with danger but showing a real sense of enthusiasm and confidence.
The Sea Eagles were flat and displayed an air of crankiness, something that won’t wash in a season where everyone will be out to knock them over.
The Game Swung When… Superstar teenage centre Jamal Idris crossed for his second try after just 27 minutes. Having already stepped and steamrolled his way over Michael Robertson to an opening four-pointer, Idris backed up a well-worked run-around between Chris Armit and Brett Kimmorley to cross on the right fringe and take the Dogs to a 14-0 lead. From there the Manly heads went down. All they had left was some ‘niggle’ – which did nothing but play into the Bulldogs’ hands.
Who Was Hot… Idris was smoking hot. Any 18-year-old who can look so accustomed to playing centre on the big stage in very difficult conditions deserves massive kudos. Idris scored twice, made two line breaks, four tackle breaks, 21 tackles (missing none) and defused a number of dangerous kicks to cap an awesome game.
But the kid wasn’t alone. He was probably shaded by prop Ben Hannant who was a tower of strength up front, continually bending back the defence, while Michael Ennis was busy all night from hooker.
Also, Brett Kimmorley showed plenty of enthusiasm at his new club.
And we can’t forget El Masri: seven from seven kicks in sheeting rain, including his third which took him past Andrew Johns to become the record holder for most points in a career.
Special mention to Andrew Ryan, too, as the veteran turned back the clock with a vintage performance.
Who Was Not… Pretty much the entire Manly side was flat and jaded from what was obviously a fairly intense week. Brent Kite couldn’t hide the frustration on his face as he gave away four penalties while Matt Ballin better watch what he does with his knees or he could face an enforced lay-off. His ‘nudge’ on Ben Roberts and the subsequent brawl it started saw him cool off in the sin bin, gifting El Masri the chance to take centre stage.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… You can’t go past El Masri for the play of the day as the record is really quite extraordinary. Considering the stalwart winger wasn’t the side’s goal kicker when he came into first grade in 1996 (the side had a pretty good one in Daryl Halligan), the fact he surpassed Johns’ 2176 points is all the more impressive.
Some of his conversions on the night were just brilliant as the rain stung hard and at a time when the game needs positive role models, he delivered.
Special mention to some of the Bulldogs’ tries. They all have some magic in them, be it an Idris step, a David Stagg pass or Ennis trapping a kick before sending the speedy Josh Morris on a length-of-the-field dash.
Injuries… Bulldogs prop Michael Hodgson played just 23 minutes due to a leg problem but at this stage it doesn’t appear serious.
Ref Watch… Ben Cummins and Brett Suttor certainly didn’t get the seal of approval from the Manly camp but irrespective of whether or not their interpretations differed from each other, as Des Hasler claims, they weren’t the reason for the Sea Eagles’ demise.
Suttor was on debut and showed some gumption to first warn the Manly camp about ruck infringements and then follow through with his sin bin threat when Ballin didn’t listen.
Bad Boys… Ballin was lumped with a striking charge but will be free to play next week, while Bulldogs prop John Kite was charged with contrary conduct.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Ben Hannant (Bulldogs): Led the home side’s forward pack, totally outplaying the premiers up the middle. Considering he spent the week in hospital with an infected spider bite on his foot, the performance was even more impressive; 2 points – Jamal Idris (Bulldogs): Two tries, strong defence and kick defusal. A performance beyond his young years; 1 point – Michael Ennis (Bulldogs): A busy performance from hooker with some quality touches including a clever kick defusal that led to a Bulldogs try.
Bulldogs 34 (J Idris 2, B Goodwin 2, J Morris tries; H El Masri 7 goals) def Sea Eagles 12 (M Ballin, J Lyon tries; M Orford 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 19,791.