The Bulldogs have shown their class again in this year’s finals series. After a dominant opening half and composed finish, the Bulldogs will have sides looking over their shoulders. Trent Hodkinson delivered an excellent kicking performance and Michael Ennis was destructive from dummy half. Tom Symonds was one of Manly’s best with 42 tackles and several probing runs.
The Canterbury Bulldogs launched themselves out of the gates in the first 20 minutes of the game, scoring three tries to nil. Mitch Brown scored in the left corner from a successful cut out ball, while Corey Thompson finished off a clinical play in the right corner.
After Sam Perrett crossed under the posts to make it 16-0, Manly must have been getting flash-backs of the hiding handed down by South Sydney in the first half last week.
Things got worse for the Sea Eagles soon after, when Josh Starling was sent from the field for punching a Bulldogs player. Rather than lay down, Manly mounted several strong attacking plays and kept the Bulldogs busy on their own line.
In a period where they really needed to make the Sea Eagles pay, the Bulldogs struggled to finish sets with a similar precision to that of the opening 20 minutes.
It was Manly who scored next on the halftime hooter when youngster Jayden Hodges skipped through the Canterbury Bulldogs defense to bring some respectability into the scoreline. 16-6 at the break and the crowd were sensing a close finish to the match as the players walked from the field.
Both teams were fired up to begin the second half and there were plenty of heavy hits supplied from both sets of forwards. In a grinding match, Manly were the first to break through as star full-back Brett Stewart crossed in the 65th minute. After the conversion, Manly were within 4 points.
A horrible misjudgment from Bulldogs captain Michael Ennis brought the scores level with 9 minutes to go. Ennis tried to bat the ball out of the dead ball zone, only to hit it in the path of Cheyse Blair. Jamie Lyon missed the conversion leaving scores locked at 16-16, and the match seemingly destined for extra-time.
Specialist kicker Trent Hodkinson kicked a sharp field-goal in the 75th minute to put the Canterbury Bulldogs ahead, only to have it cancelled out minutes later by Daly Cherry-Evans. The semi-final went into extra time for only the third time in NRL finals history.
After a good set of six, Manly had an opportunity to kick at goal. After some confusion, the ball found Brett Stewart who stabbed it wide.
This gave Canterbury a set of seven tackles and Hodkinson made no mistake, slotting home the winner in only the 84th minute.
“I thought I had bombed it…” commented captain Michael Ennis, reflecting on his error earlier in the match.
“The last ten minutes Rennie [Reynolds] was barking at me for the ball. That’s what you want in your halves. That’s why they have won an Origin together,” an elated but exhausted Ennis commented.
The Canterbury Bulldogs will play the Penrith Panthers next week for a spot in the 2014 NRL Grand Final.