The Bulldogs survived a late comeback from the Dolphins to claim a 23-22 win on Sunday afternoon in Bundaberg.
Up 23-18 with two minutes to play, the Bulldogs leaked a try to Anthony Milford and had to watch nervously as Jamayne Isaako – the NRL's leading point scorer – pushed what would have been the game-winning conversion across the face of the posts from out wide.
In the end it was a Matt Burton field goal in the final minute of the first half, which had appeared strange at the time given it stretched his side's lead to three points, which was the difference and gave Canterbury-Bankstown their seventh win of the year.
It means the Bulldogs pull further clear of the Wests Tigers at the bottom of the ladder, ahead of a bye in Round 23, while for the Dolphins the result may have killed off their faint hopes of making the top eight in their inaugural season.
Boosted by the return of five frontline players, the Bulldogs overcame an early eight-point deficit which came via a penalty goal and converted try from Isaako.
Star off-season recruit Viliame Kikau made a noticeable difference in his first game back from a pectoral injury which had sidelined him since Round 4, scoring his side's first try and adding some much-needed variety to the Bulldogs' attack.
After Kikau crashed over and centre Braidon Burns – himself back from time out injured, torched his marker down the left – the Dogs had a two-point advantage, with Burton's field goal making it 11-8 at the break.
After missing out on a potential try when Jacob Preston fired a wayward pass at him following a line break early in the second half, Jake Averillo got over in the 53rd minute to stretch the lead to nine.
But it was quickly cancelled out by a strike from Anthony Milford, whose 56th minute effort was followed up by a barnstorming run from Valynce Te Whare that saw him reach out and add a third for his side.
What could have been the game-deciding try from Isaako was rubbed out for obstruction in the lead up and instead the Bulldogs went down the other end and sent Blake Wilson over for the ninth try of his rookie season.
Blake Wilson try 69th minute
The game remained in the balance right up until the flags stayed down on Isaako's conversion in the dying seconds, after Kodi Nikorima put Milford over for his second out wide.
Match: Bulldogs v Dolphins
Round 22 -
Venue: Salter Oval, Bundaberg
- Dolphins back-rower Connelly Lemuelu failed a HIA following a tackle on 10 minutes which saw Jake Averillo penalised, while teammate Euan Aitken left the field with a suspected knee injury midway through the second half and didn't return.
- The Bulldogs won despite missing 49 tackles (nearly double the Dolphins' 28) and coughing up 12 errors.
- Between them Reed Mahoney (43), Max King (40) and Jacob Preston (39) made over a third of their side's 320 tackles.
Jake Averillo try 52nd minute
- Jacob Kiraz failed to finish the final five minutes of the game due to severe cramp.
- Jamayne Isaako continued his run of scoring points in every one of the Dolphins' games to date this season.
Play of the Game
Jamayne Isaako had his work cut out for him just to reel the ball in when Euan Aitken popped him an offload as the Dolphins worked their way out of their own end. But once he got control of the footy there was no stopping the Kiwi, who burned Blake Wilson for pace before rounding Jake Averillo in a 65-metre effort.
Jamayne Isaako try 16th minute
What They Said
"Whether it went wrong or we just had a bit of bad luck, [it was] a bit of both. Bounce of the ball, decision here, issue there, whatever, all those little things that go to make up a game. It was a great atmosphere today, great to see so many people... it was a great day for the fans and that's what it's about at the end of the day." – Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett.
Dolphins: Round 22
"I thought we were doing a lot of things well but then we just weren't icing some chances, or doing some ill-disciplined stuff and just giving the Dolphins opportunities... but the grittiness to hang in there and come up with some big plays to get the win was something I was proud of." – Bulldogs coach Cameron Ciraldo.
Bulldogs: Round 22
A trip to Perth to take on the in-form Knights awaits the Dolphins in Round 23, with Lemuelu and Aitken in doubt to make the trip. The Bulldogs head into their final bye of the season with a win under their belts before returning to action against the Knights in Round 24.