Canterbury-Bankstown withstood a frantic late Vodafone Warriors finish to earn their seventh consecutive victory winning 16-12 in today's 10th-round NRL clash in front of a 17,000-plus crowd at Hamilton's Waikato Stadium.
The Bulldogs seemed to be working their way towards another grinding triumph when they led 16-6 with five minutes to play but the Vodafone Warriors ignited the contest with a converted Ben Henry try in the 75th minute.
They came within centimetres of levelling it up two minutes later only for a try-bound Shaun Johnson to be taken into touch by Josh Morris as he was about to put the ball down.
Earlier the Vodafone Warriors were the first on the board, the strike coming in the 14th minute and, as he did against Canberra last week, second rower Ben Matulino provided it.
It came after the Vodafone Warriors earned an opportunity through an 11th-minute penalty.
They made it work to their benefit, taking the ball to the left, coming back to the middle, and then hitting the left again when dummy half Nathan Friend served up a short ball to Matulino. The big man got his legs driving with multiple Bulldogs defenders unable to prevent him getting across, Johnson converting for a 6-0 lead after 14 minutes.
Gradually the Bulldogs bit back into the contest, presented with too much possession and territory as the Vodafone Warriors made too many errors.
The 'home' side went close a couple of times before left winger Mitch Brown scored after slick work inside, especially the superb final pass from giant prop Sam Kasiano. Halfback Trent Hodkinson, averaging 87 per cent so far, had a rare miss with his conversion attempt leaving the Vodafone Warriors 6-4 ahead.
They had to endure more defensive heat in the last 10 minutes of the half as the Bulldogs continued to enjoy an edge in possession and especially field position. Yet again, though, the Vodafone Warriors produced the defensive grit and effort demanded of them to repel the Bulldogs and hold on to lead by two points at the break.
Turnovers had been costly for the Vodafone Warriors in the first half - they made five errors - and they began the second spell with another one.
The Bulldogs seized on it with relish, threatening to breach the Vodafone Warriors' left edge through another powerful thrust by Tony Williams. He was checked but when the Bulldogs went to their left Hodkinson shipped a wonderful pass for James Graham to score. Hodkinson was never going to miss this time and the Bulldogs had the lead 10-6 for the first time.
More questions had to be answered on defence after the Vodafone Warriors failed to handle a bomb and faced three repeat sets on their line. They handled that onslaught.
But when Canterbury-Bankstown returned for another shot the resistance wasn't quite enough.
Manu Vatuvei put a huge shot on Chase Stanely as he fielded a chip to the right but bounced off him, Stanley scrambling the ball free. A few off loads later Kiwi international Greg Eastwood had his side's third try, one Hodkinson failed to convert again to leave his side 14-6 ahead with 25 minutes to play.
The Bulldogs were warming to their task with rapid-fire ball work, precision kicking and constant changes in the point of their attack.
The Vodafone Warriors kept grinding but not without a significant setback when they lost one of their most potent weapons in Konrad Hurrell.
A six-again call deep inside the Bulldogs' territory offered a chance but Johnson's pass on the last tackle sailed into touch and soon after the Bulldogs stretched their advantage to 16-6 through a Hodkinson penalty.
Two minutes later the Vodafone Warriors sparked up, launching a raid down their right edge and releasing Laumape. He got past defenders, veered back infield but had the ball knocked out of his grasp. It was a chance lost.
More injury woes beset the Vodafone Warriors when hard-working interchange forward Sione Lousi had to be helped off the field with a lknee complaint (to the right knee, the same one he had surgery on last year).
Little was going the Vodafone Warriors' way. Into the final 10 minutes, possession favoured the Bulldogs overwhelmingly. At that stage they'd had 38 sets and had completed 33 while the Vodafone Warriors had just 29 sets and had completed 21. They were big odds.
They were up to the challenge, though.
They bombed to their right and won a penalty when Laumape was knocked over contesting the kick. Back they came the other way and nice hands delivered a try for Henry with Johnson converting splendidly from the sideline. Now it was 16-12 with about four minutes to play.
From the restart the Vodafone Warriors worked back towards halfway and then spread to their right, the magical Johnson slipping through and then clear of defenders. He seemed to have support on his inside but backed himself only to be denied centimetres short as he was taken into touch by Morris.
They still had another chance. An attacking bomb was spilled giving the Vodafone Warriors a scrum feed in front of the Bulldogs' posts.
They set about organising a game-levelling try but the final transfer batted on to Manu Vatuvei went way forward.
Once again the Bulldogs had underlined why they're on top of the table with their seventh straight win. It didn't make the disappointment of defeat any easier to handle.
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At Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 16 (Mitch Brown, James Graham, Greg Eastwood tries; Trent Hodkinson conversion, penalty).
Vodafone Warriors 6 (Ben Matulino, Ben Henry tries; Shaun Johnson 2 conversions).
Halftime: 6-4 Vodafone Warriors.
Referees: Ashley Klein and Alan Shortall.
Vodafone Warriors: Sam Tomkins; Ngani Laumape, Konrad Hurrell, Ben Henry, Manu Vatuvei; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Suaia Matagi, Nathan Friend, Jacob Lillyman; Jayson Bukuya, Ben Matulino; Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Sebastine Ikahihifo, Feleti Mateo, Sione Lousi, Kevin Locke.