Brandon Wakeham entered the history books as the first 18th man to be used in the NRL, but Bulldogs fans won’t care about the piece of trivia after their team ended weeks of heartbreak to clinch their first win of the season and the best of Trent Barrett’s career.
The 18-12 victory over the Sharks won’t go down as one of the classics, but footy purists and quizzing enthusiasts will remember this one for a controversial Siosifa Talakai tackle in the first half that eventually saw Wakeham enter the game with four minutes remaining.
Wearing the No.25 jersey, Wakeham – who only earned his spot on the bench after Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was ruled out with an infected knee – came on when Brad Deitz was forced off for a late HIA.
Most people thought the 18th man wouldn’t be used after it was rushed in a few weeks ago, but the emergency player was activated after Matt Doorey was ruled out at half-time due to an act of foul play.
“It was crazy. I didn’t really know what the rules were,” he told ABC Sport, adding he thought it may have been his last game of footy if he had to defend in the middle.
“I thought when Matt Doorey went off, I had to go on at that time to play back row, so I definitely was not keen to do that.
“He (Barrett) just said ‘defend, defend everything’.”
Siosifa Talakai could be in hot water for his shot on Doorey that forced the young Bulldog out of the game after he failed his HIA.
The nuggety Shark tried to lift his team with a monster shot in the 25th minute but got it wrong as his shoulder made contact with the chin of his opponent.
It wasn’t a traditional shoulder charge, but his arms didn’t wrap and the contact was high, leaving referee Chris Butler with no choice but to send him to the sin bin.
“The fact that the shoulder hits the point of the head, we’re trying to get that out of the game,” Michael Ennis said during the Fox League coverage.
“I think he’ll be in some trouble. He tried to turn the tide and inspire his teammates, but he just got it wrong.”
Siosifa Talakai was marched from the field late in the first half.Source:Getty Images
HOLD ALL TICKETS
It was only going to be a matter of time until the Bulldogs won a game after betting companies offered markets on whether they would finish the season winless.
It wasn’t the prettiest performance, but their fans won’t care after they produced the upset of the season against a Sharks side that butchered six tries on the back of Canterbury’s dogged defence.
Trent Barrett is a man known for his attacking nous, but he’ll happily trade the flashy stuff if his troops produce that effort every week.
“That’s the best win I’ve been involved in in my coaching career, and even as a player,” he said after shedding tears at full-time.
“That was so important, not just to the players but to the fans and our members and everything. I’m just really proud of them.
“It meant a hell of a lot to all of us. No one really knows what goes on in the four walls of the football club. Given what we’ve been through, that’s a huge win.”
You could come up with any number of moments that summed up Cronulla’s ineptitude in the first half, but Josh Hannay would be particularly disappointed with a couple of crucial errors by Josh Dugan that gifted the Bulldogs 12 points.
The veteran centre, who said he was open to a switch to rugby union, came up with a horror miss on Will Hopoate that gifted Canterbury the first try of the afternoon, and then dropped a regulation kick to hand Nick Cotric a present in his 100th game.
The Sharks need more from their senior players, but it’s unlikely Dugan will be dropped after new recruit Will Chambers was sent to the sin bin for throwing a punch in reserve grade.
On the other edge, Mawene Hiroti was denied not once, not twice, but thrice by some desperate Canterbury defence, although he redeemed himself with a late four-pointer.
“We created enough opportunities to win a couple of games. There were a lot of near misses tonight,” Hannay said.
“We’ve got to start games a lot better than what we’ve done the past fortnight.”
His hand was forced before kick-off when Matt Moylan was ruled out with a quad injury, but Hannay will have a huge decision to make when he names his team for next Friday’s clash with the Storm.
Shaun Johnson was solid in his return from an Achilles injury and could have had three try assists had things gone his way. He eventually came off with 18 minutes to go, but will most likely start next week.
“I thought he had some really nice touches,” Hannay said.”
With Will Kennedy playing the best footy of his career at fullback, Hannay must decide whether Moylan or Chad Townsend will partner Johnson in the halves when the Sharks make rugby league’s toughest road trip.
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