A try on the siren by Jonathan Wright has secured the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs their third straight NSW Cup title, triumphing 30 points to 28 over the Auckland Vulcans in the Grand Final at ANZ Stadium.
The Bulldogs led by eight points twice in the second half only to surrender both leads, with a Vulcans try in the 75th minute to Ivan Penehe seeing them hit the lead 28-26.
With their backs to the wall the Bulldogs secured a turnover 25 metres from the Vulcans line with 60 seconds on the clock, and sending the ball from side to side they found Wright, who jinked off his right foot to score the match winner as the siren sounded.
The try secured the result, seeing captain Trent Cutler lifting the NSW Cup trophy for the Club for a third straight year.
It was also a fitting way for Bulldogs Michael Hodgson, Chris Armit, Brad Morrin, Ben Roberts, Michael Lett, Nathan Smith, Gary Warburton and Junior Tia-Kilifi to bring down the curtain on their careers with the Club.
Unbelievably, the Premiership win is the first title ever – senior or junior – for Hodgson, coming on the final day of a career that has seen him play 204 NRL matches across 14 seasons.
The Bulldogs gave their supporters plenty of confidence early, with Cutler twisting his way out of the tackle to score wide out in the second minute after starting the game with a repeat set on the Vulcans line.
However they soon threw the lead away, with a Smith grubber bouncing into the arms of the Vulcans defence in a movement that would eventually end 30 metres from the Dogs line.
At the end of the set Auckland winger Willie Peace touched down off a cross field kick from half Pita Godinet, the try awarded by referee Jon Stone despite replays showing Peace had knocked on in grounding the ball.
Three minutes later another wayward Bulldogs kick resulted in points to the Vulcans, with a Ben Roberts grubber 10 metres out swopped upon by Glen Fisiiahi on his tryline.
Spotting no one home at fullback for the Dogs, Fisiiahi hit the afterburners to score a 100 metre special, leaving Brett Seymour with the easiest of conversions to put the Vulcans out to a 12-4 lead after as many minutes.
The half levelled out from there and despite the Vulcans dominating in terms of field position, the Dogs were the only ones to score in the final 30 minutes of the term as both sides pushed passes in the search for a strike.
In the end it was a relatively simple try, Jonathan Wright standing up the defence on play one from a scrum to race away to score in the 25th minute, reducing the gap to two at 12-10.
The Bulldogs were denied a try just before the break, Bryson Goodwin not getting the same kind of benefit of his opponents when he was ruled to have knocked on over the line in the 39th minute.
However soon after the break the Dogs got their noses back in front off a scintillating Michael Lett break, the winger in turn feeding to Nathan Smith, who handed hooker Joel Romelo a clear run to score under the posts.
Marty Taupau was then denied a clear try when he reached out to score in the corner, only to be denied by the touch judge’s flag despite replays showing he’d remained in the field of play.
It could have proven costly for the Dogs given the events yet to transpire.
Lett was quickly becoming the star of the show for the Dogs, touching down for his side’s fourth try 13 minutes into the half, stretching their lead to 20-12.
But things soured on the hour when he attempted to shadow a grubber kick into touch in goal, allowing Peace to sneak under his guard to score his second and give the Vulcans life at 20-18.
He’d redeem himself with a try 14 minutes from time, in what appeared to all but seal the result for the Minor Premiers.
However the Vulcans came hard at the Bulldogs in the final ten, with Godinet sneaking over from dummy half eight minutes from time to narrow the gap to two points.
The Bulldogs responded by putting the kick off into touch on the full, and at the end of the set Penehe crossed to put the Vulcans back into the lead at 28-26.
Once again it was Lett the focus as the match entered its final minutes, the winger securing a vital turnover with a strip 25 metres from the Vulcans line.
At the end of the play, Wright got his second and the Bulldogs were celebrating their third straight title at NSW Cup level.
NSW CUP GRAND FINAL
Bulldogs 30: Jonathan Wright 2, Michael Lett 2, Trent Cutler, Joel Romelo tries; Bryson Goodwin 3 goals from 5 attempts; Brad Morrin 0 from 1.
Auckland Vulcans 28: Willie Peace 2, Glen Fisiiahi, Pita Godinet, Ivan Pehehe tries; Brett Seymour 4 goals from 5 attempts.
At ANZ Stadium