It may not have been pretty but the Bulldogs kick started a new era with a gritty 6-4 win over the Cowboys in Townsville on Sunday night.
With Matt Burton, Josh Addo-Carr, Matt Dufty, Brent Naden, Braidon Burns, Max King and Paul Vaughan all on debut, the Bulldogs overcame the loss of four players to head knocks to secure a morale-boosting win.
The home side opened the scoring in the 16th minute when a show-and go by Tom Dearden split the Bulldogs before Murray Taulagi loomed in support and delivered the final pass for Tom Gilbert to score.
The Bulldogs then went down to 12 men when repeated offside infringements saw referee Ben Cummins lose patience and Jack Hetherington was sin binned.
Okunbor gets the Dogs on the board
Jake Averillo looked to have drawn the Bulldogs level with three minutes to go in the half but replays showed the ball had not made it to the turf as a desperate cover tackle by Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow denied the No.7.
After 52 minutes the Bulldogs' attack finally clicked when Braidon Burns provided a superb tap-on for Jayden Okunbor to cross in the right hand corner.
Torrential rain turned the final 15 minutes into a slugfest and it was Chad Townsend who took control for the Cowboys, earning two repeat sets with pinpoint grubbers and his bomb with three minutes to play looked to have pulled the game out of the fire when Coen Hess tapped the ball back to Tabuai-Fidow.
Tom Gilbert finishes off an exciting move by the Cowboys
The winger scored under the posts to send the home crowd into a frenzy but replays showed Tabuai-Fidow was in front of the kicker and the try was denied.
New recruit Burton's kicking game was pivotal for the Bulldogs, the former Panther finishing the night with 492 kicking metres from 14 prodigious kicks.
Match: Cowboys v Bulldogs
Round 1 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
- Jack Hetherington was enormous for the Bulldogs with 91 metres from 10 runs and plenty of strong defence in 70 minutes of game time.
- Max King returned to the NRL with the Bulldogs after missing the entire 2021 season with a leg injury. King made 105 metres from 11 runs and made 40 tackles.
- The Bulldogs' discipline let them down with an 8-2 first-half penalty count against them prompting capain Josh Jackson to seek some clarity from referee Ben Cummins at half-time.
- Bulldogs interchange forward Chris Patolo left the field for a HIA early in the second half and did not return. Centres Braidon Burns and Brent Naden also suffered head knocks as did hooker Jeremy Marshall-King and 18th man Aaron Schoupp was activated.
- Jayden Okunbor has now scored a try in five consecutive games, the first Bulldog since Will Hopoate in 2016 to achieve that feat.
- Jake Granville was put on report for making contact with Matt Burton's legs after the Bulldog had gotten his kick away.
Play of the Game
In a tense, tight contest the effort by Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow to deny Jake Averillo a try in the 37th minute was massive. The Bulldogs No.7 got across the line and seemed certain to get the ball down but Tabuai-Fidow showed great desperation to slide in and steal the ball just before Averillo could get it down. It may not have come in a winning cause but it was still a huge play by The Hammer.
What They Said
"I thought we lost the game, I don't think the Bullodgs beat us. When you complete at 65 percent you don't give yourself a chance. We had some discipline issues and we were scappy. I didn't think we were on the same page." - Cowboys skipper Chad Townsend.
North Queensland Cowboys
"It was an extremely courageous effort by not 17 but the 18 players there at the end. Unbelievable to do what they did. It's always a tough trip to come to Townsville but to go through what we did, we had five HIAs and blokes playing out of position so to be able to hang on a get a win ... I'm extremely proud of them. To come together and show the grit and resolve they did was a really good sign." - Bulldogs coach Trent Barrett.
The Cowboys are at home again, this time hosting the Canberra Raiders on Saturday night. In the corresponding game last year the Cowboys produced the biggest comeback since their premiership year in 2015, overhauling an 18-point defciit to win 26-24 in round seven.
The Bulldogs have the Sunday night timeslot again in round two, hosting the Broncos at Accor Stadium. They will be sweating on the fitness of a number of players who were forced off with head knocks but they'll have taken plenty of confidence from the tough victory.