The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have survived another contentious Brookvale Oval refereeing decision to grind out a well-fought 16-12 victory over the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles on Friday night.
In a closely contested encounter that went right down to the wire, Manly were at times their own worst enemy as they looked to gain an advantage over a tiring Bulldogs pack late in the match, with errors proving costly.
WATCH: How the Bulldogs sealed the win
WATCH: Full match highlights
WATCH: Sea Eagles press conference
WATCH: Bulldogs press conference
The Manly forwards put up a fair fight against their much larger Bulldogs counterparts, while Daly Cherry-Evans was once again sensational, effective not only in attack with three try assists, but also on numerous occasions defensively to nullify the Bulldogs' attack. Props Aiden Tolman and James Graham were once again inspirational up front for the Bulldogs, carting the ball up 18 times each while making numerous big tackles.
Much talk centred around a decision in the 49th minute with another contentious refereeing call going against a visiting side at Brookvale Oval. A try was awarded to Steve Matai, but Aiden Tolman certainly did his best to deny the Manly centre.
Matt Ceccin ruled no try on-field before sending it up to the video referee. Replays showed a mess of bodies around the ball and not much else but the decision came back in favour of Manly. Tolman had some choice words for referee Ceccin afterwards, claiming there was no conclusive evidence to overrule the on-field decision. That try made it 10-8 with the Dogs still in front, but brought the home team right back into the contest.
Following the match, Bulldogs coach Des Hasler was careful not to say too much in relation to the contentious video referee decision
"Aiden was pretty sure that the player didn't get the ball down," he said.
Meanwhile, Manly coach Geoff Toovey was clearly frustrated by his side's inability to build pressure late in the game.
"The effort's there but the execution was really poor," Toovey said.
"Towards the end where we could have won the game I thought we were really poor."
The Bulldogs had struck first blood in the 17th minute with some enterprising footy coming out of their own end. Sam Perrett claimed a grubber and immediately looked to turn defence into attack. He drew a defender before passing out to Brett Morris who flew down the wing with Willie Mason in pursuit. An ankle tap eventually brought down Morris and on the resulting play his brother Josh was stopped just centimetres shy of the line.
The Dogs scored off the next play as the ball was clinically spread back across the field before finding the hands of Josh Jackson. The Bulldogs second-rower did well to get outside his defender and draw a legs tackle, before offloading to Tim Lafai who was jogging on the spot to collect the first try of the match. Hodkinson couldn't convert from out wide, leaving the score at 4-0.
Feleti Mateo responded for the home side with 10 minutes remaining in the half, displaying some late footwork at the line off the back of a well-worked set play that put him one-on-one with a sliding defender. Matai missed the ensuing conversion attempt from next to the sticks, tying the game at four-all.
Disaster struck for Manly in the 35th minute after Steve Matai let a Moses Mbye bomb bounce right next to him. The Bulldogs received a fortunate bounce straight in to the hands of Perrett who turned it back inside to Lafai, allowing him to claim his second easy four-pointer. Hodkinson snuck his conversion inside the uprights to extend the Bulldogs' lead to 10-4.
Matai was next to score early in the second half before Sam Perrett sealed victory with 10 minutes remaining, the beneficiary of a well-worked backline shift. Manly had been surging until that point but a couple of crucial errors allowed the Bulldogs another chance at the line that they capitalised on.
Manly immediately hit back however, reigniting the home crowd in the 74th minute as they regained the kick-off. They had the Bulldogs under the pump straight away with a couple of powerful runs before finishing in a similar fashion to how the Bulldogs had just moments before. Hiku the beneficiary of an exquisite looping pass from Cherry-Evans to set up a scintillating final couple of minutes. However it was not to be, with the visiting Bulldogs holding on.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 16 (Lafai 2, Perrett tries; Hodkinson 2 goals) defeated Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 12 (Mateo, Matai, Hiku tries) at Brookvale Oval. Crowd: 10,498.