Ahead of Friday's #NRL game between Penrith Panthers and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, writer Rob C...
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Melbourne Storm 16 v Canterbury Bulldogs 12
at Olympic Park, Melbourne
Referees: Sean Hampstead
The Melbourne Storm have come up with a one-in-a-million finish to secure victory over the Canterbury Bulldogs tonight, and have opened up a six-point gap at the top of the table in the process.
The Storm didn't secure the result until a spectacular try to Jake Webster in the 80th minute, following a speculative kick out wide from halfback Cooper Cronk. Second-rower Ryan Hoffman, playing in the centres after an injury to fullback Steve Turner, won the race to the ball and threw a great pass infield that gave Webster a clear run to the tryline.
For the preceeding 79 minutes of the match, the Bulldogs looked to be well on the way to ending the Storm's winning streak at Olympic Park. After opening up a 4-0 lead with an early try to Sonny Bill Williams, they had plenty of further chances to add to their score only to be denied by some stubborn Melbourne defence.
The Storm didn't trouble the scorers until the 46th minute thanks to some clever play from Queensland Origin hooker Cameron Smith, but even then the Bulldogs were able to hit straight back with a Trent Cutler try. A penalty kick from Hazem El Masri opened up a 6 point gap with 15 minutes to go, and it looked as though the absence of some potent attacking weapons could come back to haunt the home team.
Then along came an unlikely hero for the Storm - within the last six minutes, Ryan Hoffman was able to provide the final pass for two tries to Kiwi winger Jake Webster, and the Storm had secured an amazing victory.
The Bulldogs certainly put in enough effort to win the match tonight - their forward effort was strong, especially thanks to Reni Maitua and newcomer Jarrad Hickey. Sonny Bill Williams was a constant handful out wide, and produced one of his strongest efforts of the season.
The Storm will consider themselves lucky to escape with this one, especially after losing Steve Turner (ribs) and Ian Donnelly (leg) to injury during the match. Ryan Hoffman did a fantastic job slotting in to the backline, and Cameron Smith provided the spark for his forwards. They can now look forward to a timely bye next round, and are very well positioned for a strong run to the finals.
Melbourne Storm: 16
Tries: Antonio Kaufusi, Jake Webster(2)
Goals: Cameron Smith 2/3
Canterbury Bulldogs: 12
Tries: Trent Cutler, Sonny Bill Williams
Goals: Hazem El Masri 2/3
Halftime: Bulldogs 4-0
By the Clock:
Welcome to Melbourne! We've got a top of the table clash here tonight between the 1st-placed Storm and the 4th-placed Bulldogs.
Late changes: Willie Mason is out for the Dogs, so Nate Myles will start and Jarrad Hickey comes onto the bench. The only change for the Storm sees Garrett Crossman and Ian Donnelly swapping places, meaning Donnelly will start.
KICKOFF - We're underway!
3 min: Scott Hill hoists a bomb right on the Doggies try-line that is well claimed by Trent Cutler.
5 min: The first chance for the Bulldogs sees them try to run the ball on the last tackle, but the Storm defence is up to the task.
6 min: TRY Canterbury Bulldogs
A dropped ball from David Kidwell gives the Bulldogs an excellent chance. Cameron Phelps is then tackled just inches away from the tryline, and on the next play the ball is swung wide for Sonny Bill Williams to open the scoring tonight.
Hazem El Masri misses the conversion from out wide.
11 min: The Bulldogs squander a half-chance as Brent Sherwin drops the ball cold 20 metres out from the Melbourne tryline.
12 min: The Storm receive their first penalty of the night, but the kick doesn't find touch thanks to some acrobatic work from Luke Patten.
15 min: A 1-on-1 strip on Matt Geyer by Sonny Bill Williams sets up another great chance for the Bulldogs. Unfortunately on their last tackle, a Brent Sherwin pass floats untouched over the sideline.
19 min: The Storm have suddenly fired up and forced a line drop-out from the Bulldogs.
21 min: After a second consecutive drop-out, the Storm let the Dogs off the hook with a Cooper Cronk knock-on.
23 min: A bomb from the Bulldogs lands on the crossbar and bounces back into the field of play - the Dogs regain possession, but hand it back to the Storm with a loose pass out wide.
25 min: Matt Geyer makes up for an earlier blunder by managing to get in the way of a Sonny Bill offload when the Dogs were looking likely to score.
27 min: Matt Geyer and Matt King both try to claim a Cooper Cronk bomb, and manage to come up with a fumble instead. Melbourne are looking dangerous when given the opportunity, but the Dogs are certainly looking like the stronger team at the moment.
31 min: Current error count - Storm 8 Bulldogs 5.
32 min: The Bulldogs make a great bust up the left flank that ends with Cameron Phelps trying a miracle off-load that tumbles into touch.
35 min: The Storm forwards make a clean break up the middle, and force another Bulldogs line drop-out from the ensuing play - but the kick is then knocked-on by Cooper Cronk.
40 min: Cooper Cronk puts in a nice banana kick that is almost claimed by Chris Walker - a try was beckoning, but another knock-on is the result.
HALFTIME: Storm 0 Bulldogs 4
The halftime score flatters the Storm a bit here, and they're doing well to hold on against a Bulldogs team producing plenty of options on attack. It's a cold dewey night down in Melbourne which is producing plenty of dropped ball from both teams.
Possession: Storm 46% Bulldogs 54%
Completion: Storm 13/20 Bulldogs 17/25
Offloads: Storm 7 Bulldogs 10
Errors: Storm 9 Bulldogs 8
The second half is underway!
Injury update: The curse of the Melbourne fullbacks continues - Steve Turner, who left the field during the first half, has suffered suspected fractured ribs and won't be back tonight.
46 min: TRY Melbourne Storm
Cameron Smith makes a clean break up the middle through some relatively soft Bulldogs defence, and Antonio Kaufusi backs up to claim an easy try under the posts.
Cameron Smith converts to put the Storm into the lead.
51 min: TRY Canterbury Bulldogs
The Dogs hit back with a swift backline move that puts Trent Cutler across the line in the corner.
Hazem El Masri nails the conversion from the touchline.
56 min: The Storm defence fires up as the Bulldogs can only make 30 metres in a set of six off their own line. The errors have dried up from both teams, and we've got a pretty decent game of footy on our hands.
59 min: Ian Donnelly is in all sorts of trouble with a knee injury after attempting to charge a Brent Sherwin clearing kick. He's assisted from the field, and the Storm are down to a two-man bench.
62 min: The Storm continue to pressure the Bulldogs kickers, and come up with a charge-down to set up good field position.
64 min: Jamie Feeney has conceded two consecutive penalties (one while in possession), and Hazem El Masri steps up to increase the lead.
64 min: PENALTY GOAL Canterbury Bulldogs
Hazem slots the penalty kick from 40 metres out.
71 min: Hazem El Masri does a remarkable job to get the ball out of his own in-goal in the face of some rushing Storm defence.
73 min: Luke Patten has knocked-on five metres out from his own line - a great chance for the Storm coming up here.
74 min: TRY Melbourne Storm
A great run and offload from Ryan Hoffman presents a chance for the Storm, and Jake Webster is on hand to dot down right next to the corner post.
A pressure kick for Cameron Smith here to level the scores .... and it's bounced away off the upright!
78 min: Just a couple of minutes to go, and the Storm are working the ball away from their own line.
80 min: TRY Melbourne Storm
WOW!!!!!! With ten seconds left on the clock, Cooper Cronk puts a kick ahead for his backs to chase. Ryan Hoffman wins the race, and gets a great pass away to Jake Webster to cross for his second try. What a finish!
Cameron Smith puts the icing on the cake with a great conversion from out wide.
FULLTIME: Storm 16 Bulldogs 12
The Storm have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat tonight - they've produced a determined effort to topple the Bulldogs and open up a six-point lead at the top of the table.
Possession: Storm 49% Bulldogs 51%
Completion: Storm 33/44 Bulldogs 29/39
Offloads: Storm 11 Bulldogs 13
Errors: Storm 11 Bulldogs 13
Leagueunlimited.com players of the match:
3 - Ryan Hoffman (Storm)
2 - Sonny Bill Williams (Bulldogs)
1 - Cameron Smith (Storm)