Bulldogs sink Manly in golden point thriller
Good luck keeping that off the radar Des.
For the second straight week the Bulldogs have proved themselves the masters of finals football, holding out a fast-finishing Manly outfit 18-17 in incredible scenes at Allianz Stadium, with Trent Hodkinson nailing home two field goals to send them through to the final four.
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Reprising their early season habits of closing out a game with the fat lady belting out her final notes, Hodkinson belted home a 75th-minute field goal and then slotted another for good measure from 30 metres out four minutes into golden point after Manly had clawed their way back from a 16-0 deficit after 18 minutes.
As is the way of Keith Richards, post apocalyptic cockroaches and this Manly outfit, Jamie Lyon's men just refused to die, with Daly Cherry-Evans sending the match into extra time and the 28,186-strong crowd into raptures with his own one-pointer from 25 metres out.
But as he has on countless occasions already in 2014, Hodkinson had the last laugh, and delivered his side into one hell of a date with western Sydney rivals Penrith at ANZ Stadium next Saturday night.
Just 24 hours after the rugby league gods smiled upon the inner city turf with a one-point thriller between the Roosters and Cowboys, lightning struck twice in the form of a scarcely believable contest.
Champagne rugby league it was not, but this had finals footy stamped all over it. It had spite, fights, controversy and just about everything but the kitchen sink.
What looked to have been Hodkinson's first match winner, which pushed the Dogs in front with under five minutes to play, came courtesy of a now almost routine slice of controversy. The Bulldogs had been handed a scrum feed 10 metres out after Josh Reynolds had grubbered the ball into referee Gerard Sutton, just minutes after Reni Maitua wound up in the sin-bin for blowing up and throwing a punch at Josh Starling.
Down and by all rights out after conceding three tries before a quarter of the match had passed, Manly clawed and scrapped their way back to level footing via late second-half tries to Brett Stewart and Cheyse Blair before the match swung back and forth like a pendulum in a frantic final 10 minutes.
From the opening kick-off it was all blue and white, the Bulldogs making all the early running and repeatedly targeting Manly's reshuffled left edge defence of Steve Matai and Cheyse Blair though the quicksilver Tim Lafai. But after forging plenty of inroads down their right side it was on the left where the Dogs registered their first points, Mitch Brown diving over courtesy of a sharp Josh Morris catch and pass for a 4-0 lead after 10 minutes.
A penalty in the subsequent set marched the Dogs right back into Sea Eagles territory, and they obliged with another four-pointer, Sam Perrett this time feeding Corey Thompson on the opposite flank via a second man play.
The blue and white hearts present in the 28,186-strong crowd wound up firmly lodged in their owners mouths in the 16th minute, when Hodkinson went down clutching the same left knee he had stem cell surgery on a few years back.
After colliding with Jamie Lyon in a tackle the NSW halfback was forced from the field and straight up the tunnel, but Sam Perrett touched down before Hodkinson even made it into the dressing room, stepping through a gap you could have driven a truck through in Manly's middle defence, and pushing the Dogs out to 16-0 before even a quarter of the match had elapsed.
The writing wasn't so much on the wall for the Northern Beaches outfit as it was scrawled across their foreheads four minutes later. Bulldogs forward Josh Jackson was placed on report for a chicken wing tackle, but his victim Josh Starling found himself in the sin bin for what Phil Gould described in commentary as a "closed fisted push" on the Dogs second-rower.
Manly were fortunate not be trailing by more at the break after the Bulldogs squandered a number of chances with the Sea Eagles down a man, but wound up going into the sheds with the strongest sniff of returning to level footing since the opening kickoff.
Manly's back-up to their back-up dummy half Jayden Hodges slid past a poor effort at marker from David Klemmer close to the Dogs line, bouncing over and clawing the Sea Eagles back to 16-6 with half-time in the offing.
As the game descended into an old-fashioned arm wrestle upon the resumption, desperate cover defence from the Dogs first shut down a 60-metre run from Manly big man Josh Starling, then bundled Peta Hiku into touch half a metre short of the line seconds later.
But Manly continued to graft their way back into the contest, inch by inch, moment by moment.
And having been barely sighted for the first hour of his 200th match, the man they call "Snake" struck. Taking the ball 15 metres out, Stewart dummied and shimmied his way through the Dogs defence to draw the Sea Eagles back to within four with under 15 minutes to play.
When Blair skidded over six minutes later, claiming a bobbling ball that Mick Ennis had failed to clean up, Jamie Lyon was given a shot from the sideline to push the Sea Eagles in front for the first time in the match.
His shot sailed to the left, but with Maitua in the bin after taking exception to Manly players ruffling Ennis's hair over his mistake, as is now tradition, Manly held the advantage for the first time in 70-odd minutes.
As the field goal shoot out ensued and charge-downs became a matter of life and death, the man with the coolest head in the game stepped up to the plate and belted the ball straight between the sticks, sending the gallant Sea Eagles out of the finals with it.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 18 (M Brown, C Thompson, S Perrett tries; T Hodkinson, T Lafai goals, T Hodkinson 2 field goals) defeated Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 17 (J Hodges, B Stewart tries; J Lyon 2 goals, Daly Cherry-Evans field goal) Crowd: 28, 186.