Bulldogs win in Hasler's return to Manly
Canterbury claimed rugby league's grudge match of the year with a gripping 20-12 victory over Manly that left Des Hasler grinning on his return to Brookvale Oval Friday night.by NRL
Canterbury claimed rugby league's grudge match of the year with a gripping 20-12 victory over Manly that left Des Hasler grinning on his return to Brookvale Oval Friday night.
The Bulldogs coach, who left the Sea Eagles last year one week after winning his second premiership, would have had his heart in his mouth as his former side mounted a stirring comeback after being down 12-0 at half-time.
The victory was Canterbury's eighth on the trot and pushes the boys from Belmore to the top of the ladder, although they are not safe from the Storm, who take on whipping boy Parramatta on Saturday night.
"That's probably one of the toughest games we've played all year," Bulldogs centre Josh Morris told Grandstand.
"We knew that Manly were going to come out on their home turf and try to give us a bashing.
"We lost a couple of players early but the boys hung in and dug deep and it was a true show of their character."
The match was not sealed until man-of-the-match Ben Barba scored his second four-pointer with two minutes remaining, capping off a sensational performance that also included two try-saving tackles.
"We knew they were going to come out full of steam," Morris said.
"The crowd really got behind them and they came at us really hard.
"It was only a Ben Barba bit of brilliance that separated us."
The Sea Eagles had been waiting for Hasler's return all season and started accordingly.
In the 16,080-strong crowd, anti-Hasler banners waved in the breeze while the two-time premiership-winning coach was booed as his picture flashed up before kick-off.
Co-captain Jason King levelled imposing Bulldogs prop Sam Kasiano with a huge hit in the third minute, made even more physical with a brutal head clash that left Kasiano with a suspected cheekbone fracture.
Manly peppered the Bulldogs' tryline early but it was the visitors who came up with the points, typically through prolific try-scorer Barba.
The brilliant full-back chased his own grubber after 19 minutes and was in the right spot to accept a wayward offload from his opposite number Dean Whare to dot down under the posts.
He would do the same for the last try of the match, when he caught his own grubber as it rebounded off the goalposts to seal the match.
Canterbury's first-half blitz also included a perfectly-executed play from five-eighth Josh Reynolds, who kicked on the first tackle from a scrum into the waiting arms of winger Sam Perrett.
It was a particularly courageous performance by the high-flying Bulldogs, who lost Kasiano and half-back Kris Keating (left hamstring) after just 21 minutes.
Morris looked to have scored the match-sealer in the 72nd minute but was denied when video referee Steve Clark found a knock-on from team-mate Dale Finucane in the lead-up.
After the Bulldogs claimed first points of the second half with a penalty, the Sea Eagles kick-started a comeback with tries to their co-captains coming in a 10-minute period.
First centre Jamie Lyon snuck around Barba, who was trying to shadow a Daly Cherry-Evans kick over the dead-ball line, to dot down.
It was Barba's only blemish of the night, but it cost the Bulldogs six points.
"That's the thing about Benny, that's where he's progressed," Morris said.
"Obviously he's made that mistake in not letting the ball go dead but he quickly forgets about it.
"Probably last year he would have dwelled on it and it would have affected his performance but Benny's a true professional now and he's working hard week in, week out.
"He's come up with some good plays for us tonight."
Then prop Jason King accepted a short pass from Anthony Watmough to crash over next to the uprights to reduce the margin to just two.
Canterbury: 20 (B Barba 2, S Perrett tries; K Inu 4 goals)
Manly: 12 (J Lyon, J King tries; J Lyon 2 goals)
Source: ABC Sport
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