The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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In what can only be described as extreme conditions, the Bulldogs were able to overcome a second half fightback from the Sharks to defeat the Cronulla Sutherland side by 37-26.
Fans at Toyota Park knew that they were in for a windy day when the video screen was blown over earlier in the day, the gusts at one point getting up to 90km per hour. Because of these same winds, the corner posts at the ground were also removed for the first time in recent memory.
It was a game of two halves, with the Bulldogs scoring most of their seven tries in the first half, thanks to the fact that they were running with the wind. To illustrate how windy it really was, goalkicking sharpshooter Hazem El Masri missed four goals, which must be a record for someone of his standard.
The Sharks started very enthusiastically in the second half, scoring three quick tries, but they weren't able to turn field position into points to secure the victory. The Bulldogs however scored two late tries, to put the victory beyond doubt.
The Bulldogs forwards were able to outmuscle their counterparts for most of the game, with Steven Price, Mark O'Meley and Willie Mason having very strong and involved games. Danny Nutley tried hard for his team all afternoon and was the pick of the forwards for the Sharks.
Jason Kent, Michael Sullivan and Matt Hilder all showed flashes of brilliance for the Sharks side, but it's obvious that they are really missing chief playmaker Brett Kimmorley, who should be returning in the next few weeks.
Paul Gallen was outstanding for the Sharks side, amassing 153 metres from 20 hitups, 1 line break and 1 try assist. For the Bulldogs, the victory was orchestrated by Brent Sherwin, whose kicking game was extremely vital in the blustery conditions. Hazem El Masri also did a lot to score his three tries.
The Sharks now face the Dragons next week in a classic local derby at Oki Jubilee, while the Bulldogs will take on the resurgent Tigers at Campbelltown on Friday night.
Toyota Park Referee: Jason Robinson Video Referee: Mick Stone Touch Judges: Darren Gocher, Tony Archer
Scorers: SHARKS 26 Tries: Hilder 2, Sullivan, Vagana, Stevens Goals: Hilder 3/5 defeated by BULLDOGS 37 Tries: El Masri 3, Anasta 2, Ryan, Lolesi Goals: El Masri 4/8 Field Goals: Sherwin 1
By the clock: PRE-MATCH: Blustery conditions at Shark Park in what should be a great match. No changes for the Bulldogs side, likewise for the Sharks.
0 min: NEWS - There are gale force winds in excess of 90km per hour circulating Shark Park. The Bulldogs have kicked off and the game is underway!
4 min: TRY - Bulldogs. Andrew Ryan shrugged off a poor attempt at tackle from Ryan McGoldrick and powered his way over the line to score. El Masri misses the conversion thanks to the strong wind. Bulldogs 4-0.
7 min: NEWS - No Try for the Bulldogs. O'Meley powered himself over the line, but dropped the ball when trying to put it down. The Dogs forwards are creating havoc thus far. The video screen is not working because it blew over earlier in the day thanks to the strong winds.
8 min: NEWS - No corner posts will be used in the game today either due to the strong winds blowing them over. The wind is having an enormous effect on this game.
11 min: TRY - Sharks. After a great bust from Matt Bickerstaff, the Sharks got a roll on. Hilder ran from dummy half and put a grubber kick through under the posts which rebounded off Grimaldi, as Hilder dived on the ball to score a try from his own kick. Hilder converts. Sharks 6-4.
14 min: TRY - Sharks. Matt Utai dropped the ball close to his own line, as Matt Hilder dived on the loose ball to score his second try in as many minutes. Once again he converts his own try. Sharks 12-4.
21 min: TRY - Bulldogs. Nice worked play from the Bulldogs with lots of decoys, as Patten turned an inside ball to El Masri who weaved his way into the ingoal area to score. El Masri converts in one of the most astounding banana kicks you'll ever see thanks to the wind. Sharks 12-10.
25 min: TRY - Bulldogs. An overlap on the right hand side for the Bulldogs, as Jamaal Lolesi crashes over to score. The Dogs are having a field day down Vagana's side of the field. El Masri misses the conversion. Bulldogs 14-12.
33 min: NEWS - Possession is starting to even itself out now, after the Sharks had a wealth of it in the first 20 minutes. Bulldogs are coming home very strongly in the first half.
36 min: TRY - Bulldogs. El Masri weaved between defenders to score his second try after some feeble Sharks defence. He converts his own try. Bulldogs 20-12.
39 min: TRY - Bulldogs. Braith Anasta burrowed his way over the line to score another soft try against the Sharks. El Masri misses another kick in this strong wind. Bulldogs 24-12.
40 min: HALF TIME. Bulldogs leading 24-12.
The Bulldogs started out the game in a hot fashion, and it looked like it was going to be a long day for the men from the shire. But they fought back strongly, scoring two good tries. However the Bulldogs had too much class in the latter of the second half, running rampant over their counterparts.
Half Time Statistics:
Possession: Bulldogs 53% Sharks 47% Penalties: Bulldogs 4-2 Completions: Sharks 13/17; Bulldogs 18/22 Line Breaks: Bulldogs 6-1 Mistackles: Sharks 25-5 Offloads: 5 all Errors: 4 all
41 min: NEWS - The Sharks have kicked off to begin the second half.
43 min: TRY - Sharks. A blistering run by Nathan Merrit down the right hand wing, as he passed miraculously inside to Michael Sullivan who beat Luke Patten to score. Great start to the second half from the men from the shire. Hilder converts after the ball hit the post and went through the uprights. Bulldogs 24-18.
47 min: NEWS - No Try Sharks. After a smart grubber into the in-goal area by Michael Sullivan, Paul Gallen almost scored a try but he dropped the ball over the line. Still Bulldogs 24-18.
48 min: TRY - Sharks. After a great bust from Paul Gallen, he threw a long cutout pass to a flying Nigel Vagana who powered his way over the top of El Masri to score. Hilder misses the conversion. Bulldogs 24-22.
52 min: PENALTY GOAL - Bulldogs. After Willie Mason was ruled to have been taken out of the play without the ball, El Masri slotted over an easy two points. That goal gives El Masri 1,200 points in first grade. Bulldogs 26-22.
55 min: TRY - Sharks. After a penalty to the Sharks, Jason Kent hit a lovely cut out pass on the chest of Jason Stevens who barged over the line to score. Hilder misses the conversion. 26 all.
62 min: NEWS - The Sharks were able to sustain a strong attacking raid from the Bulldogs with some great last ditch defence.
65 min: TRY - Bulldogs. After a great run from Willie Tonga, Sherwin summed up the situation and put a cross field kick in for Hazem El Masri who was unmarked and he went over to score his third try of the game. He converts his own try. Bulldogs 32-26.
68 min: NEWS - Phil Bailey bombed a deadset certain try for the Sharks which would have seen them get back into the contest, as it was a three on one overlap, but he decided to go himself and he dropped the ball.
71 min: FIELD GOAL - Bulldogs. Amazing field goal by Brent Sherwin into the breeze taking the Dogs out to a 7 point lead. Bulldogs 33-26.
75 min: TRY - Bulldogs. Another great backline movement from the Bulldogs, as Anasta slices through the Sharks defence to score his second try. El Masri misses his fourth kick of the afternoon. Bulldogs 37-26.
80 min: FULL TIME. The Bulldogs win 37-26.
A good, solid win for the Bulldogs. They weren't at their best but they fought hard and scored some entertaining tries. The Sharks dropped off in the second half when the game was there for the taking, and they'd be disappointed with their effort, despite taking one of the premiership favourites right to the end.
Full Time Statistics:
Possession: Bulldogs 53% Sharks 47% Penalties: Bulldogs 8-4 Completions: Sharks 25/34; Bulldogs 33/41 Line Breaks: Bulldogs 9-4 Mistackles: Sharks 43-10 Offloads: Sharks 21-13 Errors: Sharks 11-8
----------------------------------------- Leagueunlimited.com players of the match: 3 - Brent Sherwin (Bulldogs) 2 - Hazem El Masri (Bulldogs) 1 - Paul Gallen (Sharks) -----------------------------------------