Monstrous Bulldogs pip Sea Eagles
A decisive 74th minute field goal from skipper Michael Ennis led a depleted Bulldogs side to a thrilling 23-16 victory over competition leaders Manly at ANZ Stadium on Friday night.
From fielding probably the biggest halves combination to playing 74 minutes with just 16 men, the Bulldogs posted their bravest victory of the season on the back of Ennis' late heroics, including a game-sealing try on the final play of the game.
- Scheming Hasler unleashes hell on Manly
- Toovey apologises to Bulldogs fan
- WATCH: Michael Ennis secure the win for the Bulldogs
- WATCH: Bulldogs v Sea Eagles highlights
- Re-live our live match commentary
- Match stats, scores, highlights
With regular halves Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds away on Origin duty, Bulldogs coach Des Hasler opted for the monstrous halves pairing of Josh Jackson and Tony Williams – normally his starting backrow.
But the makeshift duo – along with a typically dogged performance from Ennis – steered their side to within two points of the NRL frontrunners on the ladder, and snapped Manly's three-game winning streak.
Aiden Tolman lasted just six minutes, after the Bulldogs prop aggravated the hamstring injury that kept him sidelined since these sides last met in Round 13.
But while the home side dominated possession early, like any predictable rugby league game, the opposition's first foray into enemy territory resulted in an easy first try.
Having defended their own line for the majority of the first 15 minutes, a short ball from Matt Ballin to Dunamis Lui made short work of the Bulldogs' defence up the guts.
Not to be outdone, the hosts executed an exact replica of Manly's try six minutes later when James Graham barged over one pass off the ruck to level the scores at 6-all.
As the half wore on, it was the clear the premiership favourites were out of sync as much as the underdogs were determined to compete with an improvising squad.
This was no more evident when, in the shadows of halftime, centre Krisnan Inu brushed past four arm-grabbing Manly defenders to give his side an unlikely, but deserved, 12-6 lead at the break.
Not unlikely, however, was the signature rev-up from Manly coach Geoff Toovey to his team about their slow start.
And his halftime message would've still been ringing in his team's ears when second-gamer Clinton Gutherson made full use of a Brett Stewart cut-out pass in the 44th minute to slash the lead to two.
But three piggybacks in three consecutive sets must've had Toovey fuming once more, particularly when Bulldogs winger Corey Thompson pounced on a 53rd minute Ennis grubber, overran by Stewart.
Inu hooked his sideline attempt, keeping the margin within a converted try.
And unfortunately for the Bulldogs, a Mitch Brown spill off Jack Littlejohn's 60th minute half-bomb fell right into the breadbasket of a chasing Justin Horo, who planted it next to the posts for Lyon to level at 16-all.
And that set the stage for Ennis who, after seeing Inu's 72nd minute attempt sail wide, broke the deadlock with a clutch field goal four minutes later, before sealing the win with an opportunistic four-pointer on fulltime.
Manly had a chance to steal the game in the closing moments when breaking through on the right edge, but Peta Hiku's chip grazed the sideline.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 23 (Graham, Inu, Thompson, Ennis tries; Inu 3 goals, Ennis field goal) defeated Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 16 (Lui, Gutherson, Horo tries; Lyon 2 goals). Crowd: 14,921.