Bulldogs snatch late win from Warriors 21-20
It was a nightmare ending to a nightmare week.
Bulldogs half Trent Hodkinson sunk the hopes of Warriors players and fans who wanted some hope for the season when he kicked a field goal in the final minutes of the game to lead his side to a 21-20 win at Eden Park this afternoon.
There was no fairytale finish here. The Warriors scored four tries to three but lost by one.
The Warriors, who within a week had lost their head coach Matt Elliott and had been forced to stand by as their millionaire owners traded blows, were playing with a passion not seen this year but were unable to overcome a Bulldogs team who were relentless in their attack.
The adrenaline and passion in the Warriors was evident from the outset and the crowd of 22,160 were vocal in their support of their team.
But the Bulldogs were too good, too slick and too strong.
The Bulldogs forwards were relentless, even a massive number of tackles by Jacob Lillyman, captain Simon Mannering and Nathan Friend could not match them.
Ben Matulino was the standout player of the first half before leaving with an injury. Matulino looked free to play his natural game, which in this case was hard running and a huge number of offloads including three in the first 20 minutes alone. Players weren't running alone, running beautiful support lines.
The big men Ngani Laumape, last year's rookie of the season; Manu Vatuvei and Konrad Hurrell seemed to break the line at ease.
But the adrenalin and anger could only carry them so far and after dominating the first 30 minutes the Warriors looked a spent force in the last 10 minutes of the first half with a number of basic errors.
They managed to hold back relentless waves of Bulldogs attack to go into half time up by four.
The reinvigorated Warriors returned after half time but the week had obviously been too much for them. The experience of the Bulldogs told in the end.
The Warriors came into the game third from the bottom of the table, the Bulldogs who had won three of their five previous games were second.
The only way was up for the Warriors after they were demolished 37-6 by the Sharks in Cronulla.
McFadden, the team's fourth coach in the past three years, had made a number of changes dropping regular half Chad Townsend down to the reserves to make way for Kiwi international Thomas Leuluai. Feleti Mateo also found himself playing NSW Cup this week, with Sebastine Ikahihifo starting at loose forward.
The team's leading try scorer, Glen Fisiiahi, missed the match with a shoulder injury, with Ngani Laumape starting in his place.
In contrast the Bulldogs named a largely unchanged team from the one which had beaten the fancied Roosters in round five.
The Warriors didn't have a dream start with the Bulldogs getting a scrum feed 20m from the line after Matulino was deemed to have dropped a ball on his first touch.
But after that it was all but perfect from Matulino who, in the eight minute,made a brilliant offload into the hands of Thomas Leuluai who linked with a lightning fast Sam Tomkins who dotted down. Shaun Johnson converted.
Tomkins was involved at the other end in a try saving tackle shortly after but he became the villain in the 20th minute when he decided to play at a ball that was clearly going out, near the Warriors' try line meaning the Bulldogs were able to have a scrum feed from 15m out. They were able to hold out.
In the 26th minute Vatuvei picked up a loose ball, after another Matulino off load, and scored in the corner.
The Warriors were caught napping and with handling errors putting the Bulldogs in a good position fullback Sam Perrett was able to make a simple step to breeze past the outstretched hands of Warriors players to score with less than 10 minutes to go in the first half.
The Warriors had a dream start to the second half with Knorad Hurrell grabbing a floating kick from Leuluai and scoring just four minutes into the second half.
Vatuvei had a moment of brilliance in beautifully catching a high ball but then had a moment of complete headlessness, dropping a similar ball which gave the Bulldogs prime position with a scrum feed and slick passing saw Tony Williams saunter over. A conversion brought the score back to 14-12 to the Warriors.
Captain Mannering scored a try within a whisker of the ball going dead to put the Warriors ahead by eight with 21 minutes to go.
Both teams tackled themselves to a standstill with bruising defence. The completion rate of the Warriors was much higher than in previous games which meant there was less pressure.
The Bulldogs brought themselves back into the game with 15 minutes to go making a scintillating counterattack from deep within their own territory for Tim Lafai to score.
And it was Hodkinson who broke the hearts of Warriors fans with two minutes to go.
Earlier in the day the Warriors reserve side won 18-14 over their Bulldogs counterparts.
Score: Bulldogs 21 (S.Perrett, T.Williams T. Lafai tries, T Hodkinson 3 conversions 1 penalty)
Warriors 20 (S.Tomkins, B.Matulino, K Hurrell, S.Mannering tries S.Johnson 2 conversions)