They took their coach last year, now Canterbury have set their sights on taking Manly’s premiership with a 16-10 win in the opening NRL qualifying final in Sydney last night.
After a brutal but enthralling contest, Des Hasler’s Bulldogs will take a rest next weekend and prepare for a preliminary final after laying down a marker to the rest of the competition that they’re the team to beat.
Manly, who won the premiership under Hasler last year, must now pick themselves up and get ready to take on either Brisbane or North Queensland in Sydney next week.
However, they may have to do it without co-captain Jamie Lyon, who limped off early in the first half with a calf injury.
They may also be denied the services of centre Steve Matai and Jason King, who were both put on report within 30 seconds of one another for high shots on Sam Perrett and Aiden Tolman.
Matai has 70 carryover points for previous offences and could potentially miss two matches should the match review committee decide to sanction the Kiwi centre.
It was the minor premiers who opened the scoring after eight minutes when Josh Morris brushed aside Dean Whare and passed inside to Jonathan Wright who scored.
The Sea Eagles hit back with two tries in quick succession with winger Jorge Taufua doing well to touch down in the left corner, before Brett Stewart went under the posts following a bulldozing run from giant backrower Tony Williams on 30 minutes.
Daly Cherry-Evans, taking over Lyon’s kicking duties, only converted one of two opportunities, giving his side a 10-6 lead at the break.
The second half maintained a similar intensity, with Bulldogs skipper Michael Ennis and Anthony Watmough in the middle of three blow-ups between both sets of players as the game threatened to blow out of control.
But it was the hosts who grabbed the initiative when in attack with Kris Keating producing a brilliant kick and chase eight minutes after halftime.
Newly crowned Dally M Medallist Ben Barba scored the match-sealing try on the hour mark.
It was Morris who was again the instigator, finding space down the channel and playing in Barba who sprinted clear to score.
The Sea Eagles tried desperately to find a way back but were thwarted by some brilliant defending from Hasler’s men with Tolman producing a stunning try-saver on his own line, capping off a fine performance, to deny Matai in the dying seconds.