Canterbury Bulldogs get one over Sea Eagles

DOG GONE: James Graham goes over to score for the Bulldogs.
DOG GONE: James Graham goes over to score for the Bulldogs.

With the Hillsong conference on next door at Allphones Arena there was no shortage of belief around Homebush on Friday night. 

Canterbury have plenty of it themselves after an against-the-odds win over NRL pacesetters Manly in which Tony Williams had a starring role in the most unlikely of positions.

Missing his State of Origin halves pair Des Hasler produced a wildcard by shifting the giant Williams to halfback and the experiment worked in front of a crowd of 14,921 at ANZ Stadium.

Bulldogs captain Michael Ennis and English prop James Graham were also outstanding for the Bulldogs, with Ennis sealing the result with a late field goal then an opportunistic try at the death.

It was a first loss in four games for a disappointing Sea Eagles, who could have gone four points clear at the top of the premiership but are now ahead of a rejuvenated Canterbury on points difference.

With the numbers on their back all but irrelevant the Bulldogs opted for size over subtly, with the often maligned Williams having one of his best games in a blue and white jersey pulling the strings.

Not a complete novice in the halves Williams had in fact been man of the match with a No.6 on his back in a Queensland Cup final a few years back, turning out for Manly's feeder team on the Sunshine Coast.

Given the keys to the Bulldogs backline by Hasler put the foot down and ran the ball regularly, as a player of 118kg might be expected to do, but also showed some of the skills that made him a junior playmaker before the scales sent him inevitably for the forwards.

A floating cut-out ball to winger Drury Low showed an early sign of innovation and there was a payoff close to half-time when he threw the final pass in a try to Krisnan Inu that saw Canterbury take a 12-6 lead at the break.

The Bulldogs had gained an unlikely ascendancy through sheer grunt. They lost prop Aiden Tolman after only seven minutes, re-injuring his hamstring in his first game back from injury, but via the lead of tireless front-row partner James Graham and Tim Browne aimed up in defence and had Toovey's men on the back foot.

Taking a straightforward approach in the absence of the silky State of Origin duo Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson the drama for Canterbury was always going to be applying finesse to the brute force. They had looked rudderless with Ennis filling in at halfback against Parramatta last month and there were the expected shortcomings in their last-tackle options again on Friday night.

Ennis, however, managed to produce a result from a snarling grubber kick in the 53rd minute after Manly second-gamer Clinton Gutherson hit back for the Sea Eagles soon after the break.

Brett Stewart, who had laid on the young winger's try with a lovely cut-out pass, was caught under the spell of the awkwardly rolling ball and zippy Bulldogs winger Corey Thompson pounced.

Stewart's opposing fullback, Mitch Brown, would have his own issues at the back, though, spilling a Jack Littlejohn kick that allowed Justin Horo to square the scoreline with 20 minutes remaining.

The Bulldogs would not be denied, though, with Ennis nosing them in front, then capitalising on a Williams kick to score under the posts despite a clearly forward pass by Tim Browne.

Sydney Morning Herald