Canterbury-Bankstown consigned the Vodafone Warriors to a 12-24 loss in tonight's first-ever NRL clash at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
A Shaun Johnson try had given the Vodafone Warriors a 12-10 lead midway through the second half but the Bulldogs came back strongly with tries to debutant wing Marcelo Montoya and the second of the night for left wing Brett Morris to take out the contest.
It was the Bulldogs' first win after a run of six straight defeats dating back to the last four rounds last season while the Vodafone Warriors now head into the fourth round with a 1-2 record in their first three outings of the season.
Earlier field position and the weight of possession – aided by a 5-1 penalty count at one point – had belonged to the Vodafone Warriors.
They went wide to the right on a last tackle option in the opening minutes in search of wing Ken Maumalo. The intent was there but the execution didn't quite match it.
A few minutes later Maumalo was the target again as Johnson floated a chip to the right. The giant wing was only just denied by Brett Morris as he hunted in behind the Bulldogs’ defensive line.
Another Johnson kick – this time a grubber – was on offer for Maumalo again but he bobbled the ball trying to force it for what should have been the opening try of the game.
The aerial attack went to the left, Ata Hingano dropping a bomb for big Manu Vatuvei to contest but the Bulldogs defused the threat.
All the heat was being applied by the patient Vodafone Warriors, muscling up in the middle.
Finally reward came in the 16th minute. Johnson feinted to kick to the right on the last tackle but dropped off inside instead to fullback Tuimoala Lolohea who grubbered towards the posts. The ball grazed an upright, ricocheted and fast-following Bodene Thompson pounced to claim the try. Johnson’s conversion had the Vodafone Warriors 6-0 up after 18 minutes.
The Bulldogs began to earn a share of possession and stretched the Vodafone Warriors with their ball movement. The defence was up to it initially but in the end a one-on-one miss presented the Canterbury-Bankstown side with the only invitation needed, standoff Moses Mbye skipping through and converting his own try.
The score-line of 6-6 became 10-6 in the Bulldogs' favour just before halftime when they shortened up the Vodafone Warriors' right edge for Morris to coast in down the touch-line. Mbye failed with conversion, the score remaining 10-6 at halftime with the contest there for the taking.
The Vodafone Warriors needed a solid start to the second half and produced it, earning an early opening when former Vodafone Junior Warriors fullback Brad Abbey - making his NRL debut - fumbled a Hingano kick just short of his line.
From the following set centre Solomone Kata ploughed over from dummy half. Referee Gavin Badger had 'no try' on it, going to the bunker and it came back that way, Ryan Hoffman deemed to have impeded a defender in the ruck area.
There was a significant setback, though, with Vatuvei forced off the field by his troublesome right knee. The cards were shuffled with Maumalo switched to Vatuvei's left wing spot, centre David Fusitu'a pushed out onto the right wing and Thompson going into the centres.
Staying in the arm wrestle, the Vodafone Warriors finally found joy in the 62nd minute. Johnson was heavily involved, feeding a surging Thompson on his right and he then popped an offload inside for Johnson to score his 57th career try. His conversion had the Vodafone Warriors 12-10 ahead.
It didn't last long, though, as the Bulldogs profited from Vodafone Warriors errors to lay on tries for Montoya and the second of the match for Brett Morris.
On a night when he equalled Stacey Jones' club record 261 appearances, Simon Mannering was as heroic as ever with 50 tackles and more than 100 metres but there was no happy outcome on what should have been a memorable occasion.
The Vodafone Warriors now prepare for their fourth-round match against St George Illawarra in Sydney on Sunday week.
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Vodafone Warriors 12 (Bodene Thompson, Shaun Johnson tries; Shaun Johnson 2 conversions).
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 24 (Brett Morris 2, Moses Mbye, Marcelo Montoya tries; Moses Mbye 3 conversions, penalty).
Halftime: 10-6 Bulldogs.
Referees: Gavin Badger and Jon Stone.
Vodafone Warriors | Tuimoala Lolohea; Ken Maumalo, David Fusitu'a, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei; Mafoa'aeata Hingano, Shaun Johnson; Albert Vete, Issac Luke, Jacob Lillyman; Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman (c); Simon Mannering. Interchange: Erin Clark, Charlie Gubb, Sam Lisone, Bunty Afoa.