Playing in front of 22,165 fans at Eden Park, it was halfback Trent Hodkinson who delivered the telling blow, booting a penalty and field goal in the final five minutes to lift his side to victory.
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Despite spending the entire match as the better team statistically, having more possession and a far superior completion rate to that of their opponents, the Bulldogs didn’t lead until the 78th minute.
It was a brave effort from the under-fire Warriors but in the end poor 50 per cent goal-kicking from star halfback Shaun Johnson cost them an upset victory.
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Sam Tomkins and Thomas Leuluai had played a big role in a successful opening 15 minutes for the Warriors.
The pair, old teammates from their time together at the Wigan Warriors, combined for the first try on nine minutes after Leuluai grabbed an excellent Ben Matulino offload and passed for Tomkins to dot down. A short time later they united again to save one, bundling winger Corey Thompson into touch out wide.
The decision by new Warriors coach Andrew McFadden to shift Ben Matulino from his usual front row station to the second row proved an inspired one. Matulino produced his fourth offload in the opening 26 minutes and set up a second four-pointer as Manu Vatuvei ran in his 122nd NRL try.
The Bulldogs were slowly clawing their way back into the contest, making the most of an excellent completion rate of 13 from 14 late in the half. Eventually the pressure told on the home team, Sam Perrett running over the top of Leuluai and Dane Nielsen to score in the left corner.
Hodkinson continued his excellent form from the boot to make it 10-6, which was how it stayed going into the break.
It took only three minutes for the Warriors to strike again in the second term, Leuluai bombing across field and Konrad Hurrell scooping up the scraps to power over from close range. But another missed conversion from Johnson meant his side only assumed a modest eight-point lead.
The Warriors may have been quick to score, but they were even quicker to surrender the advantage. Vatuvei dropped a bomb without a Bulldog in sight and Canterbury took full advantage through a try to big Tony Williams.
Captain Simon Mannering celebrated re-signing with the club for a further four years by latching on to a Johnson grubber within an inch of the dead-ball line to take his side’s lead out to 20-12.
Despite repeated sets deep in Bulldogs territory the Warriors couldn’t deliver the killer blow and instead threw a wayward pass which Hodkinson intercepted to wrestle momentum back the other way. A few plays later Reynolds made the most of a retreating Warriors line to put Tim Lafai over.
When Hodkinson booted a controversial penalty with five minutes remaining, the Bulldogs put themselves even and minutes later the cool-headed halfback slotted a field goal from thirty out to seal his side’s fourth victory of the year.
The win bumps the Bulldogs back up to within two points of the premiership-leading Gold Coast Titans, while for the Warriors the pain continues both on and off the field.
Canterbury Bulldogs 21 (Perrett, Williams, Lafai tries; Hodkinson 4 goals. Hodkinson 1 field goal) def New Zealand Warriors 20 (Tomkins, Vatuvei, Hurrell, Mannering tries; Johnson 2 goals). Crowd: 22,165.