Only in rugby league can you lose on the field to a fierce rival, and still be the winner by the end of the week.
But a mid-season game, jammed into the blur that is the State of Origin period, between two teams who won’t play finals this year, almost seemed superfluous to what is going to happen by week’s end.
For the record, the Bulldogs won the Cameron Ciraldo Cup over the Tigers and chalked up their first back-to-back wins since 2019, when the pandemic wasn’t a thing.
But the real action might have been high in the stands at CommBank Stadium, where the movers and shakers from both clubs circle the NRL’s most wanted coach.
Who will win the race for Ciraldo?
It might be neither, and the Panthers assistant will stay exactly where he feels comfortable, helping Ivan Cleary create a dynasty in Sydney’s golden west.
Kyle Flanagan tries to wrestle past the Tigers defence.Credit:Getty
But it’s fair to say he would have been a keen observer of proceedings at CommBank Stadium, where the Bulldogs climbed further away from the NRL cellar with a thumping 36-12 win on Sunday.
The only thing sweeter would be prising Ciraldo out of the grasp of the Tigers, who rolled out the red carpet last week in a bid to convince the coach to take a job boasting a factory of top-level juniors.
But as for their NRL side, they were second best against the Bulldogs.
If Ciraldo wants to coach the best player from either side, he will take the Canterbury job.
The Tigers’ Alex Twal is taken from the field with a heavy concussion.Credit:Getty
In Matt Burton, the Bulldogs have a player they can build their club around. He made mistakes — the good ones still do — and he copped studs in the face. But his monster kicks and imagination at five-eighth mean he deservedly will make a State of Origin debut for NSW in Perth, with a left-foot weapon his state never knew it needed.
From the very first set, when the game was delayed for several minutes so a medicab could wheel a heavily concussed Alex Twal from the field after falling awkwardly pressuring a Burton kick, it was never going to be the Tigers’ afternoon.
How they only trailed 12-6 at half-time might have been the first mini-win of Brett Kimmorley’s coaching career.
Ciraldo, a noted defensive specialist, would have cringed at the Bulldogs’ first two tries being scored from dummy-half runs, with Jeremy Marshall-King and Jake Averillo both piercing fragile defence.
In between, Tigers winger David Nofoaluma miraculously planted the ball in the corner after his opposite Josh Addo-Carr, who looked threatening with every touch and had eight tackle breaks before half-time, misjudged a Luke Brooks cross-field kick.
Averillo completed his double when he toed forward an improbable pass from Jacob Kiraz on the last, and the lead only increased when Kiraz scored himself. The Bulldogs had again audaciously run the ball on the last, a hallmark since Mick Potter stepped into the interim role.
Tigers star Adam Doueihi made his return off the bench from a near year-long ACL rehabilitation, but Bulldogs debutant Kurtis Morrin stole the show with a try on debut. In doing so he emulated his uncle, Brad, in 2005 before leaving the field with a dislocated shoulder.
CANTERBURY BULLDOGS 36 (Jake Averillo 2, Jeremy Marshall-King, Jacob Kiraz, Kurtis Morrin, Aaron Schoupp tries; Matt Burton 6 goals) defeated WESTS TIGERS 12 (David Nofoaluma, James Tamou tries; Luke Brooks 2 goals) at CommBank Stadium. Referee: Ben Cummins. Crowd: 14,806.
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