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Bulldogs cheered on by NRL squad for Harold Matthews win

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs were cheered on by their NRL teammates after scoring a runaway 32-6 win over Newcastle Knights in the UNE Harold Matthews Cup Grand Final at Leichhardt Oval today.

There was little separating the two teams in the first half with Bulldogs taking a slender 8-6 lead into the break. The second half was a different affair with the Bulldogs piling on four unanswered tries to claim their fourth Harold Matthews Cup title and first since 2011.

Halfback Mitchell Woods was named Player of the Match after an impressive performance which included a try assist and a try just before full-time.

Coach Shannon Rushworth said the players appreciated the support from the club with coach Cameron Ciraldo, veteran Josh Reynolds, hooker Reed Mahoney and five-eighth Matt Burton among those cheering them home.

“We had jersey presentation last night and Josh Reynolds, Reed Mahoney and ‘Gus’ (Gould) had a word to them all,” Rushworth said.

“They had training this morning and they all turned up. It’s a one-club feel at the moment and everyone is part of it.”

It was a fair turnaround from the Bulldogs, after they were beaten 52-6 by Penrith Panthers at the start of April. They rebounded to beat the Canberra Raiders 25-18 in the first week of the finals and then exacted their revenge over the Panthers 30-16 to book their place in the dcider.

“We basically flushed (the Panthers loss),” Rushworth said.

“We weren’t resilient in that game, and we really pride ourselves on that. That was just one of those games that got away from us.

“We knew we were better than what we dished out there, and with these kids it didn’t faze them one bit.

“We knew we were here for a reason, it was only one loss and a very tight comp, but we knew if we got here we’d be very competitive all the way through.”

Back-rower Sosaia Alatini made a telling break during the sideline which led to the Knights being penalised for a strip. From the next set, Alatini came close to scoring after charging on to a short pass near the posts but unfortunately was unable to maintain control of it.

A mistake from the Bulldogs handed the Knights possession in good field position and they were quick to capitalise with halfback Haami Loza picking up fullback Connor Votano who hit a hole at pace before accelerating away to the corner to score. Votano converted for a 6-0 lead.

The Bulldogs lifted their intensity and a couple of huge charges upfield from prop Mohamed Hadid and Alatini had them on the attack.

Fullback Tallis McKewen Welsh sprinted out of dummy-half to plant the ball over the line and five-eighth Bronson Reuben added the extras to lock the scores up at 6-all. The Bulldogs took an 8-6 lead into the half-time after Knights centre Lochie Gray was penalised for a high tackle on Reuben.

The Bulldogs started to gain the upper hand in the second half with replacement forward David Leota popping up a great short pass for prop Mohamed Hadid to crash over the line. Reuben converted to extend the lead to 14-6.

Replacement Christopher Makhlouf then showed great strength to bump off attempted tackles from Gray, five-eighth Blake Dorahy and Votano to score a memorable try. Reuben converted again and the Bulldogs were well in control at 20-6.

They would add two more tries through Jope Rauqe and Mitchell Woods to put an exclamation point on the win and spark scenes of celebration at full-time – including Rushworth being drenched with Gatorade.

“Newcastle definitely turned up to play, just grinded all the way and we were lucky enough to stay in it,” Rushworth said.

“I thought our interchange bench when they came on really lifted us and gave us a bit of power in the middle and got us on the front foot.

“Fair credit to Newcastle, they deserved to be here as they’ve been great all season, but it was just our day today.”

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 32 (Tallis McKewen Welsh, Mohamed Hadid, Christopher Makhlouf, Jope Rauqe, Mitchell Woods tries; Bronson Reuben 6 goals) def Newcastle Knights 6 (Connor Votano try; Connor Votano goal) at Leichhardt Oval.


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