NSW halves pair lead Bulldogs past Canberra
Heroic NSW Blues halves Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds overcame a two day State of Origin turnaround to steer Canterbury to a 22-14 NRL win over hapless Canberra on Friday night.
The eight point win all but ends the slim hopes the Raiders have of making the top eight, simple errors and poor execution once again costing them in front of 10,873 fans at Canberra Stadium.
Hodkinson stoically took to the field - despite rumours a cork would prevent him from backing up from his match-winning Origin performance on Wednesday night - to lift the Bulldogs to fourth spot on the table.
His presence alongside Reynolds was important in breaking the Dogs' three game losing streak with the duo playing a role in all of the Bulldogs four tries - two of which went to winger Drury Low.
Yet it was the Raiders who burst out of the blocks, an impressive Jarrod Croker scoring a converted try in the seventh minute after some hot-potato footy that didn't resemble a team that had lost five from their last six.
The Raiders defensive line was also lifting much quicker than it had in previous weeks, putting a lot of pressure on the Bulldogs' backline.
However Hodkinson and Reynolds adjusted midway through the first half, shifting it quicker to centres Krisnan Inu and Tim Lafai - their lightning-fast hands setting up their wingers for three first-half tries out wide.
The first of those came after a momentum-sucking mistake from debutant Raiders winger Brenko Lee from a kick return.
It gifted the Bulldogs prime real estate for the first time in the match, and Low scored from the ensuing set in the 17th minute.
Several repeat Raiders sets earned them a penalty goal as they went up 8-4 in the 24th minute, but their concentration would soon lapse, failing to complete their last three sets of the first half.
Their lack of possession resulted in them losing the lead in the 34th minute when Bulldogs winger Corey Thompson scored.
A 37th minute Josh Reynolds 40-20 then set the platform for Low to cross for his second, giving the Bulldogs a 14-8 lead at the break.
A gut-busting Hodkinson kick and chase then forced Raiders fullback Reece Robinson to lose the ball while scrambling out of the in-goal, with Lafai pouncing on the crumbs to put the Bulldogs up 20-8 in the 52nd minute.
A Hodkinson penalty goal in the 67th minute sealed the match, with Canberra scoring a late consolation try through Anthony Milford.
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler praised his star playmaking duo for backing up after Origin, adding that Hodkinson only flew down to Canberra on the day of the match after previously being ruled out.
"Just having them out there to steer the team gives the players around them a lot of confidence," Hasler said.
The match featured several heated scuffles between Reynolds and Raiders lock Shaun Fensom, with Bulldogs captain Michael Ennis putting it down to both sides' respective losing streaks leading into the clash.
"That's all it was - just two sides desperate for a win," Ennis said.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said his side continued to make life tough for themselves.
"With 12 turnovers, and five of them on or before tackle two, that means we can't beat footy teams like that," he said.
"We're not a good enough team to lack polish."
However Raiders skipper Terry Campese said his side wouldn't give up on their hopes of a top-eight berth despite being at least four wins off the pace.
"In saying that, we've got to turn it around quickly," he said.
Canterbury Bulldogs 22 (D Low 2 T Lafai C Thompson tries T Hodkinson 3 goals) Canberra Raiders 14 (J Croker A Milford tries J Croker 3 goals) at GIO Stadium. Referee: Alan Shortall, Ashley Klein