Gold Coast 26 Bulldogs 16
Old trick: Sam Perrett dives in to score. Photo: Getty Images
If the Bulldogs are to repeat their efforts of last year, and perhaps better them, they will have to do it the hard way. A position outside the top four beckons for the Bulldogs, who also lost prop Sam Kasiano to injury on a costly night.
Defeat at the hands of the Gold Coast leaves the Bulldogs five points outside the top four with four rounds remaining; relying on Melbourne or Manly to lose three of their final regular-season matches appears far-fetched.
On the move: Anthony Don of the Titans. Photo: Getty Images
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Perrett, Hodkinson, Reynolds||Tries||3||Tries||4||Players||Gordon(3), Mead|
|Players||Inu 0/1 (0%), Hodkinson 2/2 (100%)||Conversions||2||Conversions||3||Players||Sezer 3/4 (75%)|
|Players||Penalty goals||0||Penalty goals||2||Players||Sezer 2/2 (100%)|
|Players||Field goals||0||Field goals||0||Players|
The Titans, meanwhile, have edged back into the top eight, due to a superior points differential over Canberra.
The Bulldogs had their chances. Time and again they found themselves with strong scoring opportunities, but they could not finish many of them off, and they paid their price, in a match which included 23 penalties.
It took the Bulldogs the best part of half an hour to get going. The Titans were strongest over the opening stages, shocking the Bulldogs with a sixth minute try, when winger Kevin Gordon lept high above his opposite Sam Perrett to take an Aidan Sezer kick. Bulldogs prop Sam Kasiano did his best to shake both the game and Titans fullback David Mead up; his ninth minute hit on the flyer lifted his side and his linebreak a minute later put his side on the front foot.
NRL Bulldogs v Titans
David Mead of the Titans scores. Photo: Getty
What appeared to be an accidental crusher tackle on Titans prop Ryan James by Kasiano brought a bit of fire out of the two sides, and especially their captains. Bulldogs hooker Michael Ennis and Titans prop Nate Myles never need a formal invitation to start anything, and when they took out their mouthguards it was clear they meant business.
But so did the Titans. The Bulldogs had won three straight prior to the contest, but the Titans hadn't given up on a finals spot. Fullback David Mead's speed allowed him to put Gordon over for his second.
The Bulldogs, who had squandered a number of chances, finally got on the scoreboard after 26 minutes, when five-eighth Josh Reynolds combined with fullback Josh Morris, whose one-handed offload put Sam Perrett over.
Both sides were being frustrated by the officiating. Ennis was having his usual running battle with the referees, but the Titans were getting in on the act. No-one was particularly happy - and that included the referees themselves.
They called the skippers - Ennis and Titans co-captain Greg Bird - over to lay down the law. Ennis was quick to respond, telling referee Adam Devcich: "You guys are ruining the contest because we're trying to compete."
By halftime, each side had conceded a remarkable eight penalties. The Bulldogs had also lost Kasiano, who limped from the field just as Sezer extended the Titans' lead to six points.
The Bulldogs continued to pepper the Titans' line after the break. Second-rower Tony Williams, who had lost the ball short just before halftime, was penalised a few minutes after the break for a double movement.
Halfback Trent Hodkinson finally broke Gold Coast's defence down after 48 minutes, darting over on the last tackle, but Krisnan Inu's missed conversion enabled the Titans to hold onto the lead.
The Bulldogs felt they had the lead after 52 minutes, when Hodkinson's kick appeared to cannon of Titans centre Jamie Dowling's head into the arms of Reynolds. But the on-field officials believed there might have been a touch by Bulldog Josh Jackson, and the video officials were not given enough evidence to overturn the decision.
It proved critical. Four minutes later, Luke O'Dwyer's wonderful inside ball gave Mead the space and ultimately the try. Reynolds scored with seven minutes remaining, but Gordon's third in the final minutes, following Bird's superb offload, finished the Bulldogs off. A sudden death finals campaign awaits.
GOLD COAST 26 (K Gordon 3 D Mead tries A Sezer 5 goals) bt BULLDOGS 16 (T Hodkinson S Perrett J Reynolds tries T Hodkinson 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: Adam Devcich, Luke Phillips. Crowd: 10,373.