The inaugural season aspirations of the Dolphins for entering the NRL finals seem demolished after they were narrowly defeated 23-22 by Canterbury at Bundaberg. The game was held on Sunday at Salter Oval, where the Dolphins player Jamayne Isaako missed a golden opportunity to score a victory for his team but unfortunately, his attempt drifted left of the posts. Isaako was notably the leading point-scorer of the competition.
The Dolphins momentarily reclaimed the lead with a duo of second-half tries by Anthony Milford, an often overlooked player in the league, and an additional score from Valynce Te Whare. Their hard-fought reversal, however, was undone when a sketchy pass from Toby Sexton to Blake Wilson led to a try in the 69th minute, delivering Canterbury a narrow victory.
The Dolphins‘ defeat is particularly bitter considering the strong start they had, taking an early 8-0 lead. Their loss, indeed, represents a wasted opportunity to approach within two points of the top eight. Inside the opening fifteen minutes, Isaako, together with Wayne Bennett‘s encouragement, set his team off to an impressive beginning with a try, a conversion and a penalty.
Canterbury responded effectively with tries from both the returning player Viliame Kikau and Braidon Burns. Consequently, Matt Burton‘s late field goal tipped the game in their favour, resulting in an 11-8 lead at halftime. Even though the lead switched hands twice during the latter half, the Bulldogs kept their grip on the game to nip into the 15th spot on the league table, managing to move past St George Illawarra and improve their chances of avoiding the last place.
Canterbury coach, Cameron Ciraldo stated, “The boys are highly spirited but our overall positioning in the competition is disappointing”. He shared that the team hopes to utilise the end segment of the season to make strides and improve their performance as much as possible. Nevertheless, he admitted a need for “a lot of cohesion to be built”.
The Dolphins‘ missing out on the finals would mark a harsh ending to what was initially a promising debut season in the NRL. The team managed a surprise when they led the competition after their opening trio of victories and mostly lingered within the top eight at the season’s halfway point. But having only celebrated two wins in the last 10 weeks, it would arguably take divine intervention for the Dolphins to reach the playoffs.
Addressing the outcome, Bennett made the prickly counter, “Well, we were never predicted to win any games, so there’s no reason to dwell on the topic of finals football.” He declared they had five more games in the coming season and simply needed to give their best in the next week.
Canterbury’s triumph significantly affects Wests Tigers‘ fate as well, potentially dooming them to successive wooden spoons. Currently placed at the bottom, the Tigers are now trailing four points behind the Dragons. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have managed to amass a six-point lead from Tim Sheens‘ team with a bye coming up and an easier run towards the end of the competition. The Tigers will likely need to conjure three unlikely victories against Canberra, the Warriors, the Dolphins, Sydney Roosters and Manly to avert a second consecutive last-place finish.