Titans stun Dogs with miracle comeback

There were kicks from Mark Minichiello and Dave Taylor, Josh Reynolds passed to the opposition before running down the tunnel at half-time, James Graham chased a winger for 90 metres, Daniel Mortimer shifted back to the position he fled Sydney to escape and after 145 minutes without scoring a point the Titans crossed three times to fight back from 18-0 down to win 19-18 in one of the most extraordinary games of the season.

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For a game that was supposed to have little or no bearing on the complicated jigsaw puzzle that is Week One of the Telstra Premiership Finals Series, the clash between the Titans and the Bulldogs at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday afternoon threw up more bizarre pieces of play in the space of 80 minutes than we have seen in any game in 2014.

And it went even longer than that.

Trent Hodkinson missed the first shot at victory two minutes into golden point extra time after scores were locked at 18 apiece at full-time, pushing his attempt from 15 metres out to the right of the posts when the Titans defenders could barely muster the energy to apply any pressure.

And then, following the worst set-up for a field goal you have ever seen in your life, Titans fullback William Zillman snapped a left-footer from 20m out in the 84th minute to earn his side a 19-18 victory with the first field goal of his career.

When the Dogs cruised to an 18-0 lead at half-time the possibility of racking up a big scoreline and putting pressure on for a home final emerged but what followed over the next 40 minutes will have coach Des Hasler concerned as to what to do with his team ahead of a finals appearance next weekend, the result of the Panthers-Warriors match to determine whether Canterbury finish seventh or eighth – but they are now guaranteed a trip to Melbourne next week either way, with the two sides certain to finish fifth and eighth or sixth and seventh.

Having not scored a point since Anthony Don's late try against the Dragons in Round 24, the Titans got on the board 12 minutes into the second half courtesy of an in-goal scramble from an Aidan Sezer cross-field kick that was eventually claimed by Kalifa Faifai Loa and confirmed by the video referee.

Their second was even more unlikely when after an awful Sezer kick into the Bulldogs in-goal the Bulldogs raced 80 metres in the space of two tackles. But when they went searching for space on the far left a spilled pass by Mitch Brown gave Don an opportunity to pick up the scraps and out-pace James Graham – just – over 90m to bring the score back to 18-10.

The comeback took a step further towards a miraculous upset in the 72nd minute when the whole-hearted Mark Minichiello – captaining the team in his 173rd and final game for the club – crossed in the corner and when Tony Williams was placed on report with three minutes to play for high contact on Sezer and Brad Takairangi muscled his way over from dummy-half from the next set, Mortimer was handed the kick at goal to earn his team an extraordinary victory.

And, of course, with a minute and 18 seconds left on the clock, he hit the posts.

The last play of regular time was as frantic as the preceding 79 minutes and 50 seconds and finished with a Josh Reynolds knock-on on halfway and a trip to golden point.

If that wasn't bizarre enough, the first half was extended by a bizarre chain of events when Josh Reynolds ran towards the sideline and the sanctuary of the tunnel before passing it forward to Anthony Don. Although the touch judge had raised his flag, referee Ben Cummins ruled that he hadn't gone into touch prior to passing the ball deliberately forward, awarding the Titans a penalty. From the frantic final play there were kicks from Aidan Sezer and Dave Taylor, a mad scramble, a knock-on and finally a whistle.

In many ways it encapsulated an opening 40 minutes where after some initial resistance the Titans looked disorganised and disinterested in both attack and defence as the Bulldogs attempted to find some form for Week One of the Finals Series.

Up against the poorest-performed team in the NRL over the final 18 rounds of the competition it took the Bulldogs just 11 minutes before opening the scoring when an energetic Reynolds attacked down the right-hand side and exposed lazy Titans cover defence when Josh Jackson took an inside pass and burst into the back-field. He found centre Tim Lafai unmarked on his outside and cruised around under the posts for the opening points of the game.

Reynolds was at it again three minutes later when he sent Lafai on a searching run into Titans territory and after earning a penalty 10 metres out from the tryline they doubled their advantage when James Graham crashed over under the posts.

Tom Kingston (lifting tackle) and Dave Taylor (head-slam) were both placed on report and Taylor helped to contribute to the Bulldogs' third try of the half when he rushed out of the line to take Josh Jackson off the ball, Reni Maitua cruising through the gaping hole left in his absence to score his first of the season and extend the half-time advantage to 18-0.

Gold Coast Titans 19 (Kalifa Faifai Loa, Anthony Don, Mark Minichiello, Brad Takairangi tries; Aidan Sezer goal, William Zillman field goal) def. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 18 (Tim Lafai, James Graham, Reni Maitua tries; Trent Hodkinson 3 goals) in 84th minute of golden point. Crowd: 12,563. Half-time: 18-0 Bulldogs.

On report: Tom Kingston (Titans), Dave Taylor (Titans), Tony Williams (Bulldogs).