In one of the games of the season so far, the Canterbury Bulldogs defeated the table-topping St George Illawarra Dragons 29-16 in front of a thoroughly entertained 27,291 at ANZ Stadium.
Moses Mbye was brought into the starting side at the expense of Josh Reynolds just hours before kick-off by coach Des Hasler and it proved to be a masterstroke. Mbye was in everything and nailed a 74th minute field goal to put the game out of reach for the Dragons.
Reynolds was also able to provide a huge impact in the final 20 minutes with the match on the line when he was finally brought on for NSW halfback Trent Hodkinson.
The Bulldogs victory was a huge result against one of the competition heavyweights especially given their captain, James Graham, hobbled off in the 17th minute with a hamstring injury and did not return.
As he so often does, Curtis Rona was the first player to cross the white stripe in this one, with his 7th minute try - the fifth time he has scored a game's first try this season and his 13th four-pointer so far this year.
Mbye was a key man in that try and was at it again just moments later as the Bulldogs took the rare option to kick early from their own end. The recently appointed Bulldogs five-eighth showed off his blistering pace to get to the ball first ahead of a pack of chasers. However the Dragons showed why they are the best defensive outfit in the competition off the following two plays, scrambling brilliantly to deny the Bulldogs what looked like certain points.
The Bulldogs looked to be in complete control of the Dragons in the 19th minute as they scored a brilliant try down their left attacking side. Mbye ran at the line and sent a perfect cut-out ball to Rona. With Dugan coming across in cover, the prolific try scorer put boot to ball and his kick was perfect. Josh Morris was flying through on the inside to claim the bouncing ball and place it over the line, making it 10-nil to the Dogs.
However the Dragons hit back soon after off a beautiful set play combining three of the Dragons' best. Benji Marshall went short to Gareth Widdop as Tyson Frizell ran a nice outside decoy. The timing between the Dragons halves was masterful; they managed to fool everyone in the house to send their star English import straight through a big gap.
The visitors would do similar five minutes into the second half putting Widdop in again after Trent Hodkinson overcommitted to Will Matthews, the Dragons decoy runner. Marshall once again threw the final pass to the Englishman hitting the big hole, however this time the try was more a function of poor defence than masterful attack. That try put the Dragons ahead for the first time in the match, 12-10 following Widdop's conversion.
Widdop was stamping his name all over the match and was pivotal again for the Dragons next try. With Dugan running through on the inside, the Dragons five-eighth chipped a nice kick over the top for the Blues fullback. It was a horrible bounce for Dugan, however the ball sat up perfectly for Peter Mata'utia to extend the Dragons lead.
In the 62nd minute this game hit fever pitch as the Bulldogs remarkably hit back with a scintillating try. On a rare attacking opportunity on the Dragons line the ball was spread out to Brett Morris in space on the right edge. With defenders taking him over the sideline Morris threw a brilliant offload back inside to Tim Lafai. As Lafai fell to the ground he juggled the ball, somehow managed to regather and then just ground the ball on the line. Mbye hit the sideline conversion to level the game up at 16-all to the adulation of a huge ANZ Stadium crowd.
The Bulldogs would then set themselves up with another great attacking opportunity after dragging Dugan back into his in-goal off a kick-off return. From the ensuing set Sam Kasiano showed off his amazing bag of tricks with a superb short ball to his fellow prop Tim Browne to cut straight through the middle for a try.
Mbye would seal victory in the 74th minute with a sweetly hit field goal from in front before Kasiano capped off his impressive day out with a deserved late try to blow the scoreline out to 29-16.
Canterbury Bulldogs 29 (Curtis Rona, Josh Morris, Tim Lafai, Tim Browne, Sam Kasiano tries; Moses Mbye 2, Trent Hodkinson 2 goals; Moses Mbye field goal) defeated St George Illawarra Dragons 16 (Gareth Widdop 2, Peter Mata'utia tries; Gareth Widdop 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Half-time: 10-6 Bulldogs. Crowd: 27,291.