Bulldogs overrun brave Eels
The Bulldogs have earned their first win of the Telstra Premiership season, finishing over the top of a brave Eels outfit that defended stoutly in the face of a huge injury toll and a poor error rate to claim a runaway 32-12 win at ANZ Stadium.
There are fears winger Semi-Radradra (knee), who went off just before halftime, and centre Beau Champion (knee) may both miss long spells of football, while Anthony Watmough (leg), Chris Sandow (ankle) and Tepai Moeroa (shoulder) all spent time off the field nursing injuries.
For the Bulldogs, new fullback Brett Morris continued his strong start to the season with another brace of tries while wingers Sam Perrett and Curtis Rona also scored doubles.
A punishing first half went badly for Parramatta in all sorts of ways and the Eels were lucky to only be down by four points at half time.
Coach Brad Arthur had to deal with back-rower Watmough going off injured with a leg gash inside the first 20 minutes, although he returned later in the half; then halfback Sandow went off with an ankle injury after 25 minutes when he was folded back awkwardly in a tackle, returning 10 minutes after half time; and try-scoring ace Radradra was assisted from the field with a leg injury in the 34th minute before Champion went down in the last five minutes.
After the game Arthur said he would have to wait for scans to confirm the extent of the injuries, but he said in both the case of Radradra and Champion "it doesn't look good". Radradra left the stadium unassisted but limping slightly and wearing a knee brace.
Arthur added both Sandow and Moeroa required needles to play in the second half, and held concerns as to how Sandow's in particular would come through. He described Moeroa as "very tough", adding there was no structural issue with the 19-year-ol back-rower's shoulder, but that it would need to be managed.
The Eels also had to soak up an incredible amount of pressure at the beginning of the first half. After Parramatta knocked on in their second possession after four minutes, the Bulldogs launched seven straight sets in their opponents' half via a series of penalties and goal-line drop-outs.
One silver lining for Arthur was how resolute the Eels goal-line defence looked but all the pressure eventually told in the 12th minute when stand-in five-eighth Moses Mbye floated a cut-out pass to Rona to open the scoring.
When Eels winger Reece Robinson allowed a 40/20 to go straight through his legs shortly after, it handed the Bulldogs another golden opportunity and this time it was in-form fullback Morris who ran around some tiring defence for an 8-0 lead.
When Sandow went off shortly after, 29-year-old ex-Newcastle prop Danny Wicks was brought on in the re-shuffle and ran the ball powerfully in a series of strong charges throughout the back end of the half.
The key man in getting the Eels back in the contest though was last-week's man-of-the-match Corey Norman, who produced yet another sublime tap-on under pressure to send Radradra over untouched.
The Eels looked set for an unlikely lead late in the half when a Manu Ma'u offload put Brad Takairangi into space. He found Radradra but the winger was ankle tapped and bundled into touch, picking up a leg injury in the process that meant he played no further part in the match.
With Sandow warming up on the sideline, Takairangi on the left wing and Ma'u filling in at left centre, the Eels exploded out of the blocks in the second half on the back of more Norman brilliance through a brace to Ma'u.
First a Norman flat ball at the line allowed Ma'u to crash over and when the Eels got in range off the very next set the five-eighth ran to the line before stabbing a late grubber that couldn't be handled by the Bulldogs and Ma'u cleaned up the scraps, earning the Eels an unlikely 12-8 lead with neither side able to buy a conversion.
Parramatta's makeshift left-edge was exposed shortly after when Tim Lafai put Perrett over, the winger improving the position enough for Trent Hodkinson to slot the first conversion of the match and a 14-12 lead.
Like Ma'u earlier in the half, Perrett earned a double inside five minutes when Hopoate allowed a bomb to bounce and Greg Eastwood's ensuing grubber was dived on by the winger under the posts.
The Eels continued to fight bravely but crucial errors stunted their attempts at a fightback, and it was from one such error the Dogs were granted the set from which Morris scored the clincher when he strolled through some exhausted defence to make it 26-12 five minutes from time.
With Eels centre Champion playing on after suffering a knee injury, it was exacerbated with the Bulldogs on the attack and he could do nothing more than sit on the ground in the defensive line as Rona ran past him for a simple try.
After the game Arthur said he would have to wait for scans to confirm the extent of the injuries, but said in both the cases of Radradra and Champion "it doesn't look good". Radradra left the stadium unassisted but limping slightly and wearing a knee brace.
Arthur added that both Sandow and Moeroa required needles to play in the second half, and held concerns as to how Sandow's injury in particular would come through. He described Moeroa as "very tough", adding there was no structural issue with the 19-year-old back-rower's shoulder, but that it would need to be managed.
Canterbury Bulldogs 32 (Brett Morris 2, Sam Perrett 2, Rona 2 tries; Hodkinson 4 goals) def Parramatta Eels 12 (Ma'u 2, Radradra tries). Crowd 28,876. Half time Bulldogs 8-4.