The Wests Tigers were riding high after the first two rounds of the season, but were brought back to earth by a desperate Bulldogs team that were yet to register a win. Before 15,127 people, Canterbury stepped up and proved that there is a spark there with a 22-8 victory.
The hosts took their second game in a row to Campbelltown Stadium after their history-making start to the season, finishing on top of the ladder after Round 2 for the first time in franchise history. The Bulldogs were coming off a horror start to the season with two losses in as many games, but Pay decided to dial up the changes for Round 3. Rhyse Martin returned at lock, Nick Meaney started at fullback and young speedster Jayden Okunbor debuted on the wing.
With a strong wind behind them, the Bulldogs were slow to get going, as the Wests Tigers threw themselves at the line multiple times in the first 20 minutes. A try-saver from Kieran Foran at the 7-minute mark just before a bunker decision that didn't go the home side's way was the first big chance. Lachlan Lewis proceeded to produce a mammoth ensuing drop-out, going a total of 80 metres before being collected.
At the 20-minute mark, the Dogs were denied as Josh Jackson was held up over the line on the last. The game flowed back and forth quickly with a good rate of completions before finally the first points came completely against the run of play.
After a drop-out return from the Tigers, Michael Chee-Kam spilt the ball for the second time in five minutes, and young fullback Nick Meaney scampered around several Wests Tigers players down the field before handing off to Will Hopoate and finally onto winger Reimis Smith, to score first points for the day. A huge 90 metre effort and the conversion from Rhyse Martin made it 6-0.
On the next set, Jayden Okunbor was instrumental in getting the Bulldogs down the field on the left. An inside ball would have certainly resulted in a try, but just two tackles later Kieran Foran ducked and weaved past four would-be defenders to score the 'Dogs second. Martin converted easily to give his side a surprise 12-0 lead.
Wests Tigers were hungry to get some points on the board late in the half, but again handling cost them, this time with Thomas Mikaele dropping the ball. This lead to a nifty play from the Bulldogs with Lewis switching to the right to Foran, to Corey Harawira-Naera, who offloaded expertly back to Foran, who handed bustling prop Dylan Napa his second try in two games.
There was a lot to like from the rejuvenated Bulldogs in the first half, but a strong swirling wind was behind them.
Again, handling would be the home side's undoing in the second half with pushed passes and poor drops costing them at every turn. The use of the wind from the Bulldog's halfback was clever, however, and caused havoc for fullback, Mbye and the Tigers' wingers.
At the 50th minute, Canterbury would score their fourth and the try that would see heads drop from the home side. Napa pushed strongly forward and offloaded to Adam Elliott who slammed it down through fairly flimsy defence.
Back-to-back penalties would help the Tigers skip down the field before, in the 54th minute, Mahe Fonua managed to finish off a slick move from Farah and Marshall down the right edge. His strong put-down in the corner saw the score reach 22-4, but still a long way back for the locals.
If there was a chance to come back, the Luke Garner try at the 66th minute was the opportunity to spark it. A nifty kick from Ryan Matterson, who'd stepped into the five-eighth role for an injured Benji Marshall (slight hamstring strain), was taken by Garner who, despite the on-field referee choosing ‘no-try', was given the green light. The missed conversion from Marsters from an easy position really snuffed out any possibility of a come-back at that point.
The last 10 minutes were relatively sloppy from both teams, but the effort from Kieran Foran right until the final whistle was huge. Canterbury gave some real positives for newly re-contracted coach Dean Pay, and some hope to the fans that were calling for changes. They'll take that hope to Melbourne next Sunday while the Wests Tigers will lick their wounds ahead of Friday's battle of the cats against Penrith.