An emotional Trent Barrett labelled Canterbury’s first win under his coaching as arguably the best of his career after the Bulldogs created history by becoming the first club to use the NRL’s new 18th man rule in Saturday night’s18-12 defeat of Cronulla.
Barrett was in tears at full-time as he embraced Canterbury players on the sideline and he praised their courage and resolve to repeatedly repel the Sharks despite losing forwards Chris Smith and Matt Doorey in the first half and hooker Brad Deitz late in the match.
With Sharks forward Siosifa Talakai sin-binned for a shoulder charge that forced Doorey from the field in the 26th minute, Barrett was able to call halfback Brandon Wakeham onto his bench because Canterbury had lost a player due to foul play and he played the last five minutes.
“That’s the best win I have been involved in in my coaching career, and even as a player,” Barrett said. “It meant a hell of a lot to all of us.
“No one really knows what goes on in the four walls of a football club, and the emotion in getting prepared every week.
“I am just really proud of them, they showed a lot of resolve, determination, grit and care for the club, which is really important. They turn up every week, they never whinge, the work hard, the cop feedback and they deserve that result tonight.
“That’s why you get emotional. You spend more time with the players than you do your family, so it’s a big thing for them. It’s something we can build our season on.
“It’s easy to kick everyone when they’re down and we’ve had a rough six weeks.”
The Bulldogs were without Josh Jackson (calf), Raymond Faitala-Mariner (foot), Jeremy Marshall-King (foot), Jack Hetherington (suspended) and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who was hospitalised on the eve of the match with a knee infection.
Doorey had only been on the field for 11 minutes after replacing Smith, who also failed an HIA, when he was sent reeling out of heavy hit from Talakai that could be felt around Netstrata Jubilee Stadium as the two big men collided.
Talakai lined up Doorey as he ran the ball in Canterbury’s half but replays suggested the Sharks’ right shoulder had struck the Bulldogs forward under the chin, Referee Chris Butler sent him to the sin bin after the incident was reviewed by the bunker.
After losing Dietz with a leg injury, Wakeham was thrust into action four minutes from full-time as Barrett’s men defended an 18-6 lead and, despite conceding a late try to Mawene Hiroti, they hung on for their first win of 2021.
“Given what we have been through that was a huge win and they are a good team,” Barrett said. “We are without a lot of players and I am just so happy for them.”
The Bulldogs are set to be bolstered next season by the arrival of Josh Addo-Carr and Matt Burton, and Barrett refuted comments by Penrith CEO Brian Fletcher that it would be better for Burton’s career if he backflipped on his deal.
“I am just happy for Matt that he is in first grade and he is playing well,” Barrett said. “We’ll keep improving the joint so that when he gets here he walks into a really good club and this is a great club with a hell of a lot of history.”
Three first-half tries laid the foundation for the Bulldogs first competition points of the 2021 season and Barrett’s first win as head coach but they needed to overcome just 35 per cent of possession in the second half.
Canterbury were greatly helped by the Sharks having six tries denied.
The first signs of a potential upset came in just the fourth minute when Bulldogs skipper Will Hopoate shrugged off centre opposite Josh Dugan and forced his way through the attempted tackles of Will Kennedy and Teig Wilton.
Star recruit Nick Cotric, in his 100th game, scored his first try for Canterbury in the 10th minute after Dugan fumbled a Jake Averillo cross-field bomb and the NSW Origin representative latched onto the loose ball as he fell into the Sharks in-goal.
However, the Bulldogs drought-breaking win was built on desperate defence as the scrambled to deny Cronulla on at least four occasions in the first half.
Sharks winger Hiroti had three tries disallowed – one of which was a spectacular effort involving eight sets of hands as the home team shifted the ball from one touchline to the other after Townsend forced Cotric to fumble following a Johnson bomb.
In contrast, the Bulldogs took their chances and Nick Meaney extended his side’s lead in the 22nd minute after lock Corey Waddell put him in a hole near the Cronulla line and the replacement fullback spun out of a Johnson tackle to score.
The Sharks finally got on the scoreboard in the 46th minute when hooker Blayke Brailey grubbered into the goal post pad and beat Meaney to the ball.
However, Townsend, winger Connor Tracey and centre Jesse Ramien all had tries disallowed as the Bulldogs dug deep in defence before Hiroti was finally able to claim a try in the 76th minute.
Source: NRL (National Rugby League)