Almanac Rugby League – Finals Week 1: The Dogs of war find a golden point miracle

NRL Elimination Final 2
Canterbury-Bankstown v St. George/Illawarra
Saturday 12th September 2015. 5:50pm
ANZ Stadium, Homebush

Coming into this evening’s eliminator match, the Bulldogs are on a five match winning streak while the Dragons have won four of their final five.

The omens are good for Canterbury. 12 months ago they came from the bottom half of the Finals Series to make the big dance, where they lost to Souths. Just like last year, the Minor Premier Eastern Suburbs Roosters have already lost their qualifying final.

St. George/Illawarra haven’t been in the finals since Wayne Bennett left for Nathan Tinkler’s mega contract in Newcastle. For a large part of this year they lead the competition, but fell to a seven match losing streak, their recent run scraped them into the eighth spot on the ladder.

Once again, the stadium presentation from the NRL is top class. Unfortunately, this stadium is twice the size of last night’s. A crowd of 20,000 is going to leave 60,000 seats empty.

My day is made all the more brighter as the mighty Penrith Panthers thrashed Manly in the Under 20 Cup, 44 to 24. It is a sad indictment of this competition that a finals match yields 68 points. It has long been a competition standard where defence is only de thing around de ground to keep de crowd off de field of play.

But these two clubs boast some of the largest supporter bases in the league with fans known for traveling.

Once again the pre-game is marred by the on-field smoke generating fireworks, reducing visibility. The two fan groups have waited until the last minute to come into the stadium as the crowd has grown dramatically in the last 15 minutes before kickoff.

The first moment of note is in the fourth minute when Canterbury’s Frank Pritchard stumbles and is unable to get up to play the ball immediately. He appears to be concussed, but doesn’t leave the game. More surprisingly he runs and offloads with the ball in the next two sets of six.

Those offloads keep the Dragons defence under pressure and a run at full pace by Brett Morris saw the defence unable to stop him before he reached the line under the black dot. It’s clearly a try, but to meet advertising commitments it is sent to the video referee for confirmation, and the Colonel salutes with the green light. Reynolds converts from point blank range and the Dogs lead 6-0.

Canterbury seem to have this game in their control, gaining a distinct advantage in the speed of the ruck.

In the 29th minute the Dragons finally get some pressure on the Dogs’ line and earn a penalty right in front, only 10 metres out. However, instead of keeping the pressure on and playing on as soon as possible, they stand and talk to each other for nearly a minute. So it would be safe to assume they were going to kick the penalty for two points, but no, they then tap and play on.

All the pressure they had built has been lost. In all that time the Canterbury defence has had the time to recover and prepare for the new attacking raid. After some more possession deep in Dogs territory, George Rose drops the ball only five metres out.

Then on the next set in defence Rose gives up a penalty and suddenly Canterbury have a great chance to score two minutes before half-time. They go for the one point field goal, but it is charged down and the Dragons run it out of danger.

At half time the score is only six-nil in favour of the Bulldogs. Even though they’ve never really been in this contest, the Saints are still in it.

In the second minute of the new half Canterbury fullback Brett Morris makes a complete hash of collecting a Benji Marshall kick, and in a mad scramble back to the ball on the tryline it appears the St. George winger Eto Nebuli has beaten him to it.

On-field referee indicates a try, however the replay shows Morris touched it first, so it’s a goal line drop out and a repeat set for St. George. They run the same last tackle option, kicking to Morris and they force him in-goal for another line drop out.

Third repeat set and Canterbury’s scrambling defence is being run ragged. Then Benji Marshall shows some of his old brilliance from a decade before, cutting through the tired Dogs to score a stunning solo try. However, it is disallowed for an obstruction play.

In the 50th minute Marshall is brought down in a tackle and his right leg is entangled with the Canterbury defender’s legs and he’s gone down in great pain. On the big screen you can clearly see him say “it’s broken.”

After a few minutes of being seen to by medical staff, Marshall gets up to play the ball. But it’s clear he’s a passenger and he leaves the field of play two minutes later. The Dragons are going to miss his on-field leadership and suddenly Canterbury are full of running and the momentum the Dragons have had since the break seems lost.

Mitch Rein knocking on from dummy half in the 56th minute is symptomatic of the holes St. George now find themselves in. The Dogs run it right and Lafai crashes over the line, however there is a clear obstruction and the try is disallowed. Saints look shot with just over 20 minutes to go.

Miraculously, Marshall appears on the big screen running up the tunnel and the St. George fans cheer him on. He’s parading up and down the sideline, but he’s got to be kidding himself. He’s clearly not right.

66th minute and on the back of the urging of their fans the Dragons set up a play to the left and have created the gap but Josh Dugan can’t hold onto the high pass. That was their best chance so far tonight.

But in a twist of luck, St.George put up a bomb to Eto Nebuli but it seems it’s gone out on the full. But replays show it was touched by the Canterbury winger, so it’s a scrum and another set of six to the Dragons.

They go centre field, then quickly rush right and Nebuli, with defenders pushing him laterally across the tryline gets the ball down. Gareth Widdop’s conversion from the sideline is perfect and, somehow, with ten minutes to go, scores are level.

With five to go St. George set up for a field goal, Widdop’s shot is charged down. He is able to turn back for the ball and gets there before the Canterbury defence, but they lead with the knees and he’s hit in the head. A melee ensues and a penalty is awarded to St. George. Widdop takes the shot from 40 metres out and with five minutes to go the Saints have somehow taken a two point lead.

The Dogs look shot, but somehow, like they always seem to do, they have found that “something special.” Josh Morris creates a break from nothing and after a short passing exchange Shaun Lane scores a match winning try. The conversion is missed and it’s 10-8 with a minute to go.

St. George go the short kick off. It bounces from the possession contest forward from a Canterbury player and suddenly the ball is in Shaun Lane’s hands again, but he’s offside. It’s a penalty 32 metres out. That missed conversion a minute ago is now the difference as Widdop kicks the penalty goal to send this into extra time.

Widdop tries to retain possession with a 40/20 kick but he’s shanked it out on the full and Canterbury now have possession only 38 metres from the line. The Dogs set it up, Josh Reynolds kicks the field goal and Canterbury win with the golden point 11 to 10.

About Wayne Ball

Tragic fan of the Australian and NSW cricket teams (for those of you outside NSW, there is a difference, despite what David Hookes said). Not a fan of T20. Penrith Panthers are the only club of decency and all which is good in Rugby League, the Waratah's were once the national team of Rugby Union, the first non Victorian team in the VFL/AFL is the Sydney Swans, and they all enjoy my passionate support. Sings for Wanderers. Internationally, I have been to see the Oakland Athletics and Green Bay Packers play. One day, I'll see Norwich City play for the FA Cup at Wembley.

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