The Bulldogs bounced back from a disastrous start and set up a thrilling finale for Game 1 of Magic Round 2023 as the Raiders lead 22-18 at halftime.
Canterbury winger Declan Casey had to forget the half by failing to catch the ball in the first minute and allowing Jordan Rapana to score an easy try.
The Bulldogs hit back through Jacob Preston, but Casey’s troubles continued as Rapana robbed him of the ball in a one-on-one, putting Jack Wighton in position to put Xavier Savage in the corner.
In just a few minutes, Paul Alamoti and Matt Burton were unable to stop Matthew Timoko, who went through virtually unscathed, and after the Raiders rear rower Hudson Young crashed, it looked like it might all be over for the Bulldogs.
But late attempts by Preston and Jake Averillo brought the Dogs back into the competition.
MIRACULOUS RECOVERY: KEVVI RELEASES ILLNESS BEFORE MAGIC ROUND CLASH
Bedridden Brisbane coach Kevin Walters quickly recovered from the flu and will be on deck to face Anthony Seybold’s Sea Eagles at Suncorp Stadium.
Just hours after he informed the club he would not be attending the match, Brisbane doctors cleared Walters after undergoing a new Covid test.
Experienced Broncos assistant John Cartwright was scheduled to take Brisbane’s coaching chair after Walters admitted he was unlikely to recover from his illness in time for the 10th round decider at Suncorp Stadium.
Walters told the Broncos hierarchy on Friday afternoon that he was too ill to command the Brisbane coaching floor.
But Walters made a stunning recovery and showed up at Suncorp Stadium to support the Broncos.
It is understood that the Broncos player reported training earlier in the week with the flu, which was passed on to Walters.
“I was a little surprised, I spoke with Kevvy on Wednesday night and he is not feeling very well,” Cartwright said.
“We’re a bit careful with the flu season and how it can affect the playing band if it goes around, so it’s more of a precaution than anything else.”
Former Wallabies coach and radio star Alan Jones was a surprise guest in the Raiders’ dressing room before kickoff on Friday. Jones was seen chatting with Canberra manager Ricky Stewart shortly before kick-off.
BENNETT THREATENS TO LEAVE WHILE THE MAGIC ROUND BEGINS
Wayne Bennett threatened to walk out of the pre-game press conference after being asked about his 900-game coaching milestone.
Bennett, 73, will coach what is believed to be his 900th Premiership game when the Dolphins face Cronulla at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
But the seven-time Premier League winner was in no mood to talk about the milestone at Radcliffe on Friday morning at a comedic press conference.
“Either we change the subject or I just move on,” Bennett told reporters.
“I don’t talk about my achievements, about what I did and what I didn’t do.
“You wrote about them, had an opinion about them. That’s enough for all of us.”
With his coaching career under pressure, Bennett issued a final warning.
— Oh, are we talking about me again? He said.
“Then I’ll be clear. If you want to talk about the team and the players, that’s fine.
“But if you want to talk about me, I’ll just have to leave the conference.”
Bennett’s 900-game career began with the Canberra Raiders in 1987 (28 games) and has included appearances for the Brisbane Broncos (631 games in 1988-2008 and 2015-2018), St George Illawarra (79 games in 2009-2011), Newcastle Knights (75 matches 2012-2014) and South Sydney Rabbitohs (77 matches 2019-2021).
He will coach the Dolphins for the 10th time at the Magic Round and has a record of 562 wins, 323 losses and 14 draws for a win percentage of 62.5.
But Bennett said he played well over 1,000 games if his coaching career in the Brisbane Rugby League was credited, including eight seasons with the Brothers and Souths before he moved to the NSWRL.
“If you put it all in, I’ll have over 900,” he said.
“I coached at least 180 people in Brisbane before moving to the NRL.
“I don’t see why they shouldn’t (count), but if you’re not in the NRL, life doesn’t exist outside of it.
“Outside of it, there are a lot of great players who have done great things in these pre-NRL competitions.
“I always thought players should get that recognition, but it doesn’t count, so you have to keep living.”
Bennet spoke briefly about his nearly 50-year coaching career.
“I never thought about becoming a coach,” he said.
“It’s not what I wanted to do and I’m still not sure if I want to be a coach.
“I found myself doing it and I still do it today.”
Aside from a brief press warning, Bennett was in a jovial mood, joking about Dolphins debutante Valyns Te Ware replacing injured center Brenco Lee (hamstring).
The New Zealand New Zealand Rugby Union was nicknamed “Val Meninga” due to his stocky build and tenacious style, similar to Immortal Mal Meninga.
But Bennett said the comparisons were wrong except in one area.
“Val Meninga, I liked that phrase,” he said.
“I saw this the other day and I thought, ‘What are the similarities between him and Mel Meninga?’
“I coached Mel, he was a great player and a great guy. The only similarity is the shorts – they are the same size.
“That’s the only resemblance I could come up with. He’s not Mal Meninga, I’ll tell you that for sure.
Dolphins captain Jesse Bromwich will miss the game with a minor hamstring injury.
QUEENSLAND ORIGIN HERO’S ominous warning
Maroons maestro Cameron Munster says he’s not yet at his peak as the Storm star sets his sights on a return to the Origin Arena to plague NSW.
Munster will lead Melbourne to the blockbuster Magic Round on Saturday night against South Sydney at the Suncorp Stadium.
The Storm bounced back from a shaky start to the season, which included losses to the Bulldogs and Titans, and moved into the top four before advancing to the 10th round.
Part of Melbourne’s troubles early in the season had to do with Munster watching from the sidelines as he recovered from an ugly, compound finger fracture.
While he has shown glimpses of the form that made him the NRL’s strongest player early last year in recent weeks, Munster insists he has yet to return to his best.
He has three big games against the Rabbitohs, Broncos and Dolphins before Queensland coach Billy Slater chooses his team for the first game to open the Origin Series in Adelaide on 31 May.
Munster, 28, missed last year’s Origin decider due to Covid, but will be the first pick at the Maroons selectors meeting on May 21st.
What may be a worrying sign for the Blues is that five-eighths of the players are still regaining confidence in their finger.
“I’m fine,” Munster said when asked to rate his form.
“This complex toe fracture has been bugging me for weeks and I am still getting back into contact stuff and using my finger with confidence.
“At times the ball game is fine, but I’m not as aggressive a person as I used to be in tackles. I’m trying to bring back that feeling and cohesion in the team.”
The Storm’s reputation has been questioned by pundits after losses to the Bulldogs and Titans, two games that Munster missed.
Since then, they have won four out of five games, losing only to Manly, and will face in-form Rabbitohs who have just gone bye.
Munster said complacency has cost teams, including Melbourne, their ultra-competitive premiership in 2023.
“We played really well against teams that nobody gave us a chance against,” he said.
“No one gave us a chance against the Souths[in the fifth round]but we played well and won.
“We had a really good week against the Roosters (28-8 win).
“We play well against teams that we know we need to play well against.
“Then the teams that weren’t given a chance against us come out and blow us up.
“Teams are getting a little complacent and that goes for the entire competition at the moment.
“Nobody gave the Wests Tigers a chance against Penrith.
“Everyone can win on their day. If one team is a little out of sorts, and the other is active, then the new rules make it difficult to change the pace of the game.
“It’s hard to say who is the best right now. The teams going best at the moment are probably the Sharks and Souths.
“These two teams are ahead of everyone right now, but each can win on their day.”
Originally published as NRL Magic Round 2023 start time, live stream, results, schedule, how to watch