The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have closed out a 12-point victory, defeating the South Sydney Rabbitohs 36-24, in an exciting display of attacking football.
It was a disciplined start to the game as both sides got a feel for each other in the early exchanges, but a brilliant individual effort by Bulldogs winger, Connelly Lemuelu, opened proceedings.
While it seemed like the perfect start for the Bulldogs, a mistake in the set after points gave the Rabbitohs a chance to reply.
Connor Tracey almost capitalised when identifying an overlap on the short side, but Jayden Okunbor’s decision to leave his wing proved crucial in shutting down the play.
Moments later a flustered Rabbitohs attack forced an offload, which found the hands of a Bulldog who ran the best part of 50 metres down field. While on the attack, the Rabbitohs gave away a penalty adjacent to the posts which saw the Bulldogs elect to take the two. This took the score out to 8-0 after 12 minutes.
Back-to-back penalties put the Bulldogs straight back on the attack, but a handling error followed by a penalty marched the Rabbitohs back up field and back into the game.
Strong carries through the middle-third of the field got the Rabbitohs on the front foot and a beautiful grubber kick by Dean Hawkins was dived on in the in-goal by Leigh Higgins to open proceedings for the Red and Green.
The Rabbitohs went back-to-back off the kick-off courtesy of a great break from Corey Allan who put Dylan O’Connor through untouched. This gave the Rabbitohs the lead at 10-8 with a quarter of the match having passed.
The Rabbitohs continued to dominate possession and another line break from Connor Tracey resulted in a brilliant try saver by Bulldogs Fullback, Toa Mata’afa. However, a ricochet from a kick in the following play sat up beautifully for Billy Brittain to plant the ball down in the in-goal, which took the Rabbitohs lead to past a converted try.
Despite a great set after points, strong running from the Bulldogs outside backs got them over the advantage line and back in good-ball territory.
Some desperate defence from the Rabbitohs managed to shut them out temporarily, only until a short-side raid on last tackle saw Bulldog right centre Morgan Harper, break through to close the gap at 16-12.
A penalty in the following set put the Bulldogs back on the attack where they managed to slide over on the left edge and level the scores at 16 a piece.
Just as the Bulldogs were clawing their way back into the game, an obstruction penalty in their red zone gave the Rabbitohs an opportunity to take the lead before half time, through a penalty goal. Dean Hawkins stepped up to the spot to make it 18-16 at the break.
The Bulldogs had all of the ball to begin the second half after consecutive penalties from the Rabbitohs, including an escort on last tackle, which allowed the Bulldogs to square up the scoring with their second penalty goal of the match.
Despite the dominant start, the two who looked most likely to break the game open for the Rabbitohs combined - in Corey Allan and Connor Tracey.
Tracey’s try and Hawkins’ goal took the score out to 24-18 to the Rabbitohs, but a quick reply from an aerial Jayden Okunbor levelled the score yet again.
Okunbor then regained the lead for his side after picking up his double moments later courtesy of some silky hands by the Bulldogs right edge.
The game was in the balance for the 15 minutes to follow with both teams prepared to do the hard yards in order to gain any little advantage over the other. Finally, a mistake at the back by the Bulldogs gave the Rabbitohs an opportunity to level the scoring.
Okunbor had his sights on a hat-trick after he fumbled an intercept attempt which gave the Rabbitohs yet another set of six in Dogs territory. However, some absolutely jamming defence by Jake Averillo off the Rabbitohs’ scrum coughed up possession on first tackle.
It was only fitting that Averillo’ solo effort in the next set of six, resulted in him crossing the line after brilliantly getting the better of the defence in cover. This gave the Bulldogs a 10 point lead with just as many minutes remaining,
While the Rabbitohs tried valiantly, they lacked the spark to generate an upset in the dying moments. With yet another gift two points on offer after a Rabbitohs penalty, Brandon Wakeham sealed the match for the Bulldogs with the final score at 36-24.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 36 (Jayden Okunbor 2, Connelly Leumelu, Morgan Harper, Matt Doorey, Jake Averillo tries; Brandon Wakeham 6 goals)
South Sydney Rabbitohs 24 (Leigh Higgins, Dylan O’Connor, Billy Brittain, Connor Tracey tries; Dean Hawkins 4 goals)