The experience and size of the Bulldogs proved too much for the Redcliffe Dolphins to overcome; with the NSW Intrust Super Premiership winners recording a 42-18 win in their NRL grand final curtain raiser match.
It was a game where the Phins showcased some entertaining play and played mostly without luck; but crucially they were unable to shut down the attacking prowess of the Dogs who proved incredibly physical overall.
Former Intrust Super Cup players proved especially hard to handle, with five-eighth Josh Cleeland winning the player of the match for his contribution. This included two quick-fire tries in first half which dealt a telling blow to the Phins hopes and gave the Dogs a 16-6 lead at halftime.
The signs though were promising early for the visiting Dolphins with Trai Fuller making a break downfield providing some early excitement – but they were not able to capitalise.
It was instead the Bulldogs who were able to make the most of their early chances – with skipper Rhyse Martin getting his side on the board in the fifth minute after a cut-out ball from halfback Fa'amanu Brown found him with the line ahead of him and he spun his way out of tackles to put the ball down to score.
From there, the game was an even contest – with the Phins finally getting on the board thanks to Kotoni Staggs who got a good ball with the line in front of him from Bryce Donovan to score in the 29th minute.
However, the game was blown apart in the last five minutes of the half with the double blow from Cleeland; with both coming from the former Ipswich Jet doing his job to back up breaks in the middle; being ready for the offload and sprinting away.
Crucially too for the Dolphins in the first half; Duncan Hall Medal winner Toby Rudolf left the field early with suspected ACL injury; while hooker Jake Turpin suffered a strained calf and was unable to return.
Myles Taueli provided plenty of spark for the Phins with his tackle-busting ability; but was limping for much of the game after injury his leg in the first half.
Despite some individual efforts in defence from the Dolphins to try and lift the team – including from Sam Anderson who was one of his side’s best; the Intrust Super Cup champions were constantly on the back foot as penalties conceded continued to hit them hard.
This allowed the Bulldogs to roll through their sets and they were also the first team to score in the second half when a great Cleeland ball and some footwork at the line saw Chris Smith go over.
They would score three more tries in the half to post their commanding score – but there were some flashes of the form that won Redcliffe their title shown in between; especially from classy centre Staggs.
He scored perhaps the try of the match when he scooped up a loose Bulldogs ball on his 10m line and ran the rest of the field to dive in under the posts.
Forward James Taylor also saw his name on the scoreboard; producing a big run to the line where he shook off a defender to go again and also score under the sticks.
Overall, the Bulldogs were too strong and were deserved winners; but the Dolphins will be ruing the cost of their errors and penalties conceded that rendered a tough challenge even harder without two of their main attacking weapons.
Canterbury Bulldogs 42 (Josh Cleeland 2, Rhyse Martin, Christopher Smith, Renouf To'omaga, Jayden Okunbor tries; Rhyse Martin 5 goals, Greg Eastwood goal) def Redcliffe Dolphins 18 (Kotoni Staggs 2, James Taylor tries; Bryce Donovan 2 goals; Kotoni Staggs goal) at ANZ Stadium
Player of the Match: Josh Cleeland (Bulldogs)