The Canterbury Bulldogs gave the Melbourne Storm a scare on their home ground, but the Storm, before 15,432 people at AAMI Park, stand alone at the top of the ladder with a 18-16 victory over the gutsy Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs had an impressive win over the table-topping Tigers last week, but come across another team that haven't lost a game so far in 2018, the often-indomitable Melbourne Storm. With their skipper, Cameron Smith, just 9 points from taking the record for the most points in the league's history, it would be a day of almost, but not quite.
Canterbury were concerned early with a rolled ankle from Dylan Napa before even touching the ball. The injury would see him missing the remainder of the game, but just 5 minutes into the game, the Bulldogs attacked down the left and Kerrod Holland finished it off easily finding himself in a big hole and diving over for his first try of the year. Rhyse Martin's conversion from the sideline gave the Bulldogs an early 6-0 lead.
It was the first time the Storm have conceded a try in the first half this year and it led to them not being their usual confident, attacking selves. Martin, Holland and Okunbor were making metres down the left with ease with spirited running and ball movement against Curtis Scott and Suliasi Vunivalu.
After some strong defence from the Bulldogs on their goal line, a penalty against Cameron Munster for pushing a player after an attacking kick saw the Bulldogs head down the other end, culminating in an error from Vunivalu, giving a perfect opportunity for the Bulldogs to score their second.
Clever fast passing via Lewis, Martin and Holland saw Jayden Okunbor score his first NRL try in the left corner. Again, a curling conversion from the sideline for Rhyse Martin and the Bulldogs were up 12-0 after 25 minutes.
The Storm then started to switch on. Consecutive penalties gave them field position and only desperate defence kept Finucane out. Another bunker decision a few minutes later was declared no try after Finucane stopped in the defensive line.
It was third time lucky for the Storm, however, when a last-gasp kick down the left saw Chambers taken out as he was about to collect the ball for a try. Reimis Smith was ruled to have tackled Chambers before he touched the ball and the penalty try gave the first points of the day to the home team.
The first half was highlighted by moments of brilliance and confidence from the Bulldogs, but let down by punctuations of sloppy last tackle options.
You can never count out the Storm, especially at home and they started the second half with attacking raids, but in similar results to the opposition, were let down by bad decisions at the tail end of the sets.
Some powerful running from young winger, Jayden Okunbor, saw him steamroll Cameron Smith twice on his way to a huge 290 metres.
Again, piggyback penalties for the Storm saw them waltz down the Bulldogs end of the field and following a slow play of the ball on the line, Tui Kamikamica just had to run hard at the line, getting through at least three Bulldogs for a strong try. The conversion tied the game up at 12 a piece with 24 minutes to play.
The young back-line from the Bulldogs really showed their potential in the game. Fullback, Nick Meaney, was safe and confident under the high ball. Kerrod Holland offered up some quick runs and clever offloads and Okunbor showed his pace, albeit, not much of a step.
Try as they might, the Bulldogs were struggling to finish off their sets and it was a common story for the Storm as well, with Brodie Croft handing the ball over easily on more than one occasion. Ultimately, it was a dropped bomb from Okunbor, gifting the Storm a scrum 10 metres out that set up an easy-as-you-like 4-pointer to Cameron Munster, strolling past a flat-footed Adam Elliot to set-up an easy conversion and a 18-12 lead for the Storm.
The Bulldogs threw everything they had in the last ten minutes and it looked like we could be headed into Golden Point as Reimis Smith scored a last-gasp try on the right after a soaring Lewis bomb. The sideline conversion from Rhyse Martin would have tied up the scores, but he pushed it wide and the Storm escaped with a 2-point victory, 18-16.
Whether the Storm deserved the victory or not is debatable, but it's hard not to commend their resilience, patience and persistence, especially when they were not playing exceedingly well. Strong running from the Bromwich brothers, Kaufusi and Finucane kept the Storm rolling forward whilst the best for the Bulldogs were Lachlan Lewis who pulled off some try-saving tackles amongst his unfortunate errors and Holland was smart along with Jackson who ran strong for 166 metres.
The Storm now sit alone on the top of the ladder with 4 wins from 4 matches as they prepare for a short turnaround before taking on the Cowboys next Friday night and the Bulldogs slide to 14th hoping to get back in the winners' circle against the Dragon next Sunday afternoon.