Inglis injured as Bulldogs dominate Souths
Canterbury have sounded a warning to every side above them on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder with a powerful and clinical 32-18 dismantling of premiers South Sydney, who had injury added to insult when skipper Greg Inglis limped off with a knee injury 10 minutes from time.
The match was out of the Bunnies' reach by then anyway following an ominous display from the Dogs, who outmuscled a Rabbitohs pack in the middle just a week after Souths had done the same to the Cowboys.
Halfback Trent Hodkinson controlled the game superbly while prop Sam Kasiano was arguably the pick of an impressive forward pack, matching his silky ball skills with some damaging runs and tackles in a win that goes some way to alleviating the pain of a bitter Good Friday loss earlier in the season – if not last year's Grand Final defeat.
The win all but guarantees the Bulldogs a finals berth and keeps them in with an outside chance of scraping into the top four, while the Rabbitohs' own top four hopes were dealt a double blow with the loss of both the game and potentially Inglis.
The first half was all Bulldogs who, while not quite perfect, took every opportunity presented to them with aplomb while their opponents did the opposite, partly in the face of a determined Canterbury defence.
Souths looked short of options with the ball, fullback Greg Inglis looked disinterested across the park (no more so than when failing to defuse a miraculous Sam Perrett try right on half time), and crucial errors let them down.
Meanwhile Canterbury were full of energy, halfback Hodkinson's passing and kicking game were close to perfect and their forwards won the battle in the middle.
The Dogs made the early running, winning the grind in the middle to pin Souths in their half.
Stand in hooker Damian Cook did his job well and backed up a threatening left-side move following Moses Mbye and Frank Pritchard offloads to dart over in the 10th minute.
A decision not to take an easy two points for a penalty in front in the 17th minute paid immediate dividends when a superb Hodkinson cutout landed on the chest of an unmarked Sam Perrett.
More attacking ball from Souths came to nothing when a Brett Morris try-saver denied Dylan Walker; it proved a doubly crucial play when Canterbury marched downfield and Morris himself scored at the end of the next set supporting more quality left-side offloading from Pritchard and Mbye.
Another Souths attacking raid fell apart when Walker's pass to Johnston was too high for his winger to hold and an Inglis drop from their next possession handed the Dogs one last chance and it was from there the unbelievable unfolded and underscored the fact it was Canterbury's day.
Hodkinson set for a field goal, the defence rushed up and charged it down, the ball deflected back and Cook, showing more urgency than any Rabbitoh, raced through to toe it ahead then fling the ball back from well over the dead ball line for Perrett to ground it and complete a remarkable try right on half-time for a 24-0 lead at the break.
If Souths were to be any chance of a miracle comeback they needed to be first to score after the break and they got their wish in contentious circumstances; a Rona offload in his own in-goal allowed Brett Morris to pull off a remarkable escape from the in-goal but the touch judge ruled Morris had touched the dead ball line.
A precision John Sutton chip to a leaping Bryson Goodwin allowed the home side to claw it back to 22-6 after 50 minutes.
The Dogs skipped away again shortly after when Rona bagged his 20th try of the season, receiving a brilliant cutout pass from Shaun Lane then showing great athleticism to dance down the touchline and ground the ball with his body suspended outside the field of play to finish off a superb left-side attacking movement.
When an Inglis pass sent Alex Johnston over shortly after, the Rabbitohs were theoretically still alive at 26-12 with 15 minutes to play but suffered a bitter double blow shortly after.
Inglis stayed down needing attention on a heavily-strapped right knee and was unable to challenge a Hodkinson bomb, which was batted back by Perrett for Lane to score; Inglis was forced off the field shortly after.
A late consolation try from Jason Clark diving over from dummy half drew the final margin back to a more respectable 32-18 but Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire will still be left to survey the damage while rival Des Hasler has every cause for optimism ahead of next week's trip to Newcastle.
Canterbury Bulldogs 32 (Sam Perrett 2, Damian Cook, Brett Morris, Curtis Rona, Shaun Lane tries; Trent Hodkinson 4 goals) defeated South Sydney Rabbitohs 18 (Bryson Goodwin, Alex Johnston, Jason Clark tries; Reynolds 3 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Half time: Bulldogs 22-0. Crowd: 26,503.