Bulldogs v Warriors: Five key points
A Warriors side that had conceded 50 points in successive weeks rolled up to ANZ Stadium on Sunday night and after a poor first half showed plenty of resolve to hit the lead late before agonisingly going down thanks to a 77th-minute James Graham match winner. Here are five talking points from the Bulldogs' 26-22 victory.
Dogs blow out the cobwebs before finals
Canterbury are at least lucky they had a relatively low-key hit-out against the Warriors – in a game that was far from a must-win for them – to get Josh Reynolds through 80 minutes of football alongside Moses Mbye, the man he will partner in the halves for the rest of this season and potentially beyond after halfback Trent Hodkinson's unfortunate dislocated wrist ended his season during last week's win.
"Josh Reynolds just needed to get through a game. We've got seven days turnaround now to come back and fight it out against St George," Bulldogs coach Des Hasler said.
"It's his first game back in six, seven weeks so it was about dusting himself off and getting through a game and getting 80 minutes. He's got big match experience, he'll be OK."
Early errors cruel Warriors
The visitors simply didn't give themselves a chance to get into the game with a first half that saw them complete just eight of 19 sets – or 42 per cent of possession. That they were in the game at all is a measure of how slowly the Bulldogs started and how long it took them to get used to Hodkinson's absence and the return of Josh Reynolds after a lengthy layoff.
They were far better in a more determined second half that saw them go error-free until a crucial one about five minutes from full-time.
"We just made too many errors in the first half, I think our completion rate was 50 per cent, it made it really tough and it took a lot of juice out of us," coach Andrew McFadden said after the game.
"We addressed that at half-time and the positive thing, these young kids came out and they changed it, they made small adaptions to their game and we kept going right to the end. It was 20-10 [to Canterbury at one point] and it could have gone the other way but we found a way to get in front so that was pleasing."
Peeling tackles back on the agenda
It may or may not be a sign of how the finals series will be refereed – in which case it is a warning to sides like Melbourne that consistently win the ground game – with the officials showing no fear of pinging both sides for peeling off a tackled player one at a time.
It was one of the new interpretations at the start of the year aimed at speeding up the ruck but there have been suggestions by some coaches that certain teams are getting away with more than should be allowed when it comes to slowly peeling off a tackled player.
The referees could audibly be heard letting the Warriors know to get off more quickly when they pinged them in the 18th minute and the Dogs wore one about 10 minutes later with Aiden Tolman frustrated by the call after he was one of four players to peel off a tackle.
If the policing of the ruck is going to enforce a faster play the ball through the finals it may benefit the more mobile sides with good line speed, such as Brisbane, and is bad news for those such as Melbourne that like to work the ruck more.
Dogs' unlikely goal kicking saviour
One of the big question marks over Des Hasler's men when Trent Hodkinson was last week ruled out for the season was how they were going to nail those tough sideline conversions in a close game.
Plenty of kickers have been tried – notably Moses Mbye and Tim Lafai – in games where Hodkinson has been unavailable, with limited success.
A surprise saviour emerged on Sunday night in the shape of bench prop Tim Browne. After Lafai had missed two admittedly tough efforts from out wide Browne stepped up to line up the third attempt. Again it was from the sideline but the big prop took his time and showed great technique in guiding the tough attempt between the sticks. He added two more far easier conversions to finish the day with three from three.
His coach was playing coy when asked if the 27-year-old bookend would be the preferred kicker throughout the finals.
"It's a bit difficult when he's not on at the start of the game isn't it?" Hasler said rhetorically.
"But he kicked well Tim. We need to do a bit of work there and they were difficult attempts for 'Lafs' so [we'll give him] a couple more attempts."
Ref overturns a call
A collectors' item moment emerged late in the tense final stretch of the game with just over five minutes remaining and the visitors clinging to a narrow 22-20 lead: a referee correctly overturning his own call.
The Bulldogs had spilled it in the midfield and Warriors back-rower Bodene Thompson dived on the loose ball. Referee Ashley Klein repeatedly called "play on, play on, play on," only for Thompson to ignore the call and lie down waiting for a Bulldogs player to complete the tackle so he could play the ball.
He was eventually penalised for a voluntary tackle – itself an incredible rarity in today's game. When Klein was reminded – presumably by one of the other officials – that the Bulldogs had just knocked on and the Warriors had not received any advantage Klein overturned the decision and handed the Warriors the scrum feed, despite protests from the blue and whites. It was something of a double rarity but the right call resulted in the end.