FOR one night at least, the Bulldogs are on top of the table - and Des Hasler is again a victor at Brookvale Oval.
This one, surely, will hurt Manly players and supporters more than any so far this year, knowing not only that their premiership coach conspired against them but that their footing in the eight is starting to slip as a result.
Hasler was for so long the architect of Fortress Brookvale but, on this night, his Bulldogs team was more impenetrable and won in quite remarkable fashion after losing two players to injury early in the contest. They did it the hard way and they did it the painful way.
Ultimately, Hasler was the sideshow to this pulsating contest. He copped some abuse from the odd fan, but it was minimal. The subplots on the field were more intriguing: Tony Williams playing against his future club, Kieran Foran playing against the team which was to be his future club before he remained loyal to the Sea Eagles, Glenn Stewart returning, Brett Stewart not. Unfortunately, despite the hype, the Sea Eagles weren't playing ball.
The Bulldogs won the first half convincingly, but at a cost. They lost prop Sam Kasiano, who had beaten a high-tackle charge just to play in the match, in the 11th minute; he had clearly been stunned by a third-minute hit by Manly co-captain Jason King. And midway through the half, halfback Kris Keating hobbled off with a hamstring injury.
Other than that, it was a half of controlled and composed football from the Bulldogs. Near-faultless up until the final few minutes, when a few mistakes crept into their game, they allowed the Sea Eagles to make the early moves, before they started to make the early errors as well.
Despite the Sea Eagles' early pressure, the Bulldogs were quick to take advantage at the first sign of weakness from their opponents. It came in the form of a loose pass by fullback Dean Whare, who was in the process of being dragged over the sideline. The problem was, it went straight to his opposite, Ben Barba, who has made a habit of the miraculous but this time scored what might be his easiest try of the season.
While the Bulldogs were so economical with the ball in hand, the Sea Eagles paid a price for not being so. First, Jorge Taufua lost possession, then his fellow winger David Williams was dragged into touch. On the first tackle off the scrum win, five-eighth Josh Reynolds kicked for winger Sam Perrett, who scored his first try since switching to the Bulldogs from the Roosters.
The Sea Eagles had their chances, but could not break down the visiting defence. It appeared they would have to wait to take advantage of a tiring Bulldogs side, with two key players off the park early and 15 fit for most of the contest.
It did happen. The Bulldogs edged ahead with a 45th-minute penalty goal to Krisnan Inu, but, when Barba inexplicably dawdled as a Daly Cherry-Evans kick bobbled towards the dead-ball line, but not over it, centre Jamie Lyon pounced to score.
The Sea Eagles bounced back to life, and the supporters who'd had to sit through the Bulldogs' dominance suddenly found their voice. Barba has been so dependable this season at the back, but that was a mistake that began to look even more costly when King barrelled over on the hour mark and the deficit was only two points.
The Bulldogs were tiring, understandably so. Their forwards were playing more minutes than they should have and they were missing a playmaker. They needed to retain the composure they displayed in the first half, but they were, really, just hanging in there.
They almost sealed it with eight minutes remaining, when interchange prop James Graham cheekily grubbered for centre Josh Morris. But the video referee, Steve Clark, saw a knock-on from Dale Finucane just prior, and the Dogs were denied.
But they weren't to be when Barba, under so much pressure for much of the contest, sealed the win, grubbering onto the post and picking up the ricochet. The Bulldogs supporters saluted their team, and then turned to salute their coach … just to rub it in.
BULLDOGS 20 (B Barba 2 S Perrett tries K Inu 4 goals) bt MANLY 12 (J King J Lyon tries J Lyon 2 goals) at Brookvale Oval. Referee: Ben Cummins, Brett Suttor. Crowd: 16,820.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-league/league-match-report/top-dogs-sweet-win-for-hasler-20120720-22fx5.html#ixzz21Crv5oBZ