Canterbury Bulldogs are the 2018 NRL State champions after a dominant win over the Redcliffe Dolphins on NRL Grand Final Day.
It was a first ever NRL State Championship for the Bulldogs, and added more misery to Queensland based sides in major interstate competitions this season, making it a clean sweep for NSW.
It was a comfortable 42-18 win to the Bulldogs in the end, the key moment coming just before the break when a quick fire double to Josh Cleeland just before half-time swinging the game massively for the Bulldogs.
Interestingly Josh Cleeland joined Shaun Nona in being a part of two NRL State Championship winning sides, and on both sides of the border. Cleeland was part of the Ipswich Jets win in 2015. Nona did it in 2014 with the Northern Pride and 2016 with Illawarra Cutters.
The first half was not the greatest in terms of quality with dropped ball and penalties galore, but there wasn’t much in it until that Cleeland burst just before half time.
PNG International and regular first grader in 2018 Rhyse Martin, who featured for just a three-second cameo in a late season game to qualify for the Bulldogs finals tilt, scored the first try of the game after 5 minutes as he charged through the Redcliffe line a little too easily from 20 metres. It was on the back of some good field position courtesy of a penalty.
Redcliffe got themselves back into the contest with their own NRL man in Kotoni Staggs, who finished off crossing untouched from 10 metres out running a great line from hooker Turpin’s pass. Redcliffe had been gifted possession and territory with multiple penalties leading up to the try. They had been applying pressure previously without success due to some ineffective last play options.
Then just when it looked like Redcliffe may have been getting on top, came the two Cleeland tries. The first he was simply backing up nicely after a break up the middle from Zac Woolford and only had 20 metres to run to finish. The second was almost a copy, however this time it was from 50 metres out up the middle and he had plenty to do to avoid being tackled by the Redcliffe fullback, after a fine offload from Renouf To’omaga. His 360 in the in-goal before putting the ball down for the first try was risky indeed.
Halftime score was 16-6 t the Bulldogs.
The second half started off as the first half ended with a couple of quick fire Bulldogs tries. The first was to Chris Smith who crossed from 10 metres out a little too easily, as the Bulldogs took full advantage of a seven tackle set and went the length of the field in the set. The second was on the back of a penalty as saw the excellent Renouf To’omaga rewarded with a try, crashing over from a couple of metres out unde the posts.
With just under half an hour to go the Bulldogs were 22 in front, and it looked like another lop-sided NRL State Championship, and to NSW benefit.
Kotoni Staggs gave the Dolphins a sniff of excitement on the 59th minute as he scooped up a loose Bulldogs pass to run over 80 metres at serious pace and score down the other end. The game was still there to be won with 20 minutes to go, but with an 18 point deficit.
Redcliffe tried hard to bridge the gap, they had a try knocked back by the video referee for a knock on a few minutes after their try, and had enough ball and territory to trouble the Bulldogs. But lacked quality to get across the line.
Ultimately though the game was decided in the 71st minute when Jayden Okunbor scored after a fine offload from Renouf To’omaga saw Fa’amanu Brown in space, and he found Okunbor on the left to finish the job down the left-wing for the score that killed off the Dolphins.
Redcliffe got themselves a consolation try after successfully getting the ball from a short kick off, James Taylor stepping through some Bulldogs defence from 20 metes out to give the Dolphins a little late joy.
But it wasn’t the last say of the game as Fa’amanu Brown scored one himself in the 76th minute to put the icing on the NRL State Championship cake for the Bulldogs after the Bulldogs halfback was gifted the perfect offload from a Dolphins forward one metre from the try line. He only had to turn around and fall over to score.
In the end, and not for the first time, the NSW Champions were too strong, too confident and outplayed the Queensland champions.
Man of the match went to Josh Cleeland who ran for 167 metres, had eight tackle busts to go with his two tries. Yet another example of the depth of talent not getting a game at NRL level, blowing the depth of talent argument against expansion out of the water.
Renouf To’omaga was also excellent for the Bulldogs in a very good Dog pack.
Trai Fuller occasionally caught the eye, as did Kotoni Staggs and Sam Anderson with a huge tackle that will surely make the highlights, but it wasn’t enough for the Dolphins.
2018 NRL STATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH RESULT
CANTERBURY BULLDOGS 42
Tries: Rhyse MARTIN (5m) Joshua CLEELAND (35m) Joshua CLEELAND (37m) Christopher SMITH (46m) Renouf TO’OMAGA (51m) Jayden OKUNBOR (71m) Fa’amanu BROWN (76m)
Goals: Rhyse Martin 4 Conv 1 Pen Greg Eastwood 1 Conv Josh Cleeland 1 Conv
REDCLIFFE DOLPHINS 18
Tries: Kotoni STAGGS (29m) Kotoni STAGGS (59m) James TAYLOR (73m)
Goals: Kotoni Staggs 1 Conv Bryce Donovan 2 Conv