Scrappy Dogs steal it late against Warriors
In a topsy turby game with no fewer than six lead changes, an 80th minute Josh Jackson try saver has sealed a last-gasp 26-22 win for Canterbury to help them finish fifth and book a home elimination final against the Dragons.
They did it the tough way against a Warriors side that was hopeless with their execution in the first half but resolute in the second, eventually taking an unlikely 22-20 lead inside the final 10 minutes.
Canterbury captain James Graham scored a rare try to reclaim the lead just three minutes from time before the Warriors launched a last-ditch assault, Jackson barrelling centre Solome Kata into touch off the last play of the game to seal the thrilling win.
Despite the visitors opening the scoring they never looked like putting in the kind of 80-minute effort to pull off an upset but a much-improved second 40 and a sublime two-try effort from rookie-of-the-year candidate Tuimoala Lolohea put a grand boilover within reach.
Needing a late burst the Bulldogs stepped up a gear and powerful set with plenty of quick play the balls put them in range for Graham to run off a Josh Reynolds short ball to score.
The win means they leapfrog a Sharks side that couldn't get the job done against Manly earlier in the day, meaning they will host the Rabbitohs, and seals a record eighth-straight defeat for the Warriors, who have gone winless since halfback Shaun Johnson was injured.
The first half was scrappy from both sides, with a number of clear chances going begging and far too many errors.
The Warriors were somewhat surprisingly the first to score when Nathan Friend burrowed over from dummy half just five minutes in but were unsurprisingly the worse offenders in terms of execution.
They completed at barely over 40 per cent in the opening half, with eight from 19, while the Bulldogs were also short of satisfactory at 66 per cent or 14 from 21 sets completed.
They appeared to miss halfback Trent Hodkinson both in terms of his game management and off the tee, with Tim Lafai unsuccessful with both attempted conversions from wide out. When he was hooked from goal-kicking duties an unlikely saviour emerged in the shape of bench prop Tim Browne, who booted three from three – including one from the sideline – in a positive sign for Hasler ahead of the finals.
Curtis Rona was heavily involved, popping a superb offload out for Morris after being forced to cut back infield on a left-side shift, then later producing yet another stunning corner-post grounding to take his season try scoring tally to 22, two behind Eels winger Semi Radradra.
The missed opportunities piled up; the Warriors looked certain to score their second when halfback Mason Lino scythed through but lost the ball in a great try-saver when Sam Perrett tackled him from behind in the 10th minute. The Dogs were denied a minute prior when Sam Perrett lost it in the act of scoring while Morris was denied his second right before half time when he was unable to retain control of a Josh Reynolds bomb after coming down with it in the Warriors in-goal.
The Warriors hit the lead straight after half time when a powerful set and precise bomb earned a goal line drop out then a well-worked left-side shift off the back of a Ben Matulino flick-pass allowed Kata to score.
A far more disciplined Warriors side looked to be dominating the battle in the middle in the second half but one penalty against Dominique Peyroux handed the Dogs a chance and they were able to capitalise against the run of play when Stanley finished off a simple right-side move.
Having reclaimed the lead the Dogs went back-to-back when impressive hooker Damien Cook scored his third try in three games this year, showing great evasiveness out of dummy half in front of the Warriors' posts.
At 20-10 the match looked like being another blowout against the Warriors but they showed resilience to stick to their task and hit back.
When a Bulldogs attacking raid resulted in a dropped ball then Frank Pritchard was penalised for a hand on the ball, the blue-and-whites couldn't hold out the full set at their line and Lolohea took advantage, showing brilliant footwork at the line to score.
He had a double in the space of five minutes when Chase Stanley spilled a Chad Townsend bomb to hand the Warriors another full set in attacking position. This time Townsend shaped to throw long then held up a beautiful short ball to allow Lolohea to slide over for his second.
A curious moment shortly after saw referee Ashley Klein penalise Bodene Thompson for a rare involuntary tackle, then be reminded the Dogs had only just dropped the ball and there was no advantage, making the unusual step of overturning his own call.
It was the right result despite the protests of the desperate home side but the Warriors, clinging to a slender two-point advantage, then produced their first error of the second half (having made seven in the first) five minutes from time to give the Dogs a chance. From there they launched the raid that saw Graham cross and allow them to hold on to a remarkable 26-22 win.
Canterbury Bulldogs 26 (Josh Morris, Curtis Rona, Kyle Stanley, Damien Cook, Graham tries; Tim Browne 3 goals) defeated New Zealand Warriors 22 (Tui Lolohea 2, Jake Friend, Solomone Kata tries; Tui Lolohea 3 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Half time: Bulldogs 8-6. Crowd: 14,821.