Canterbury have ended Melbourne’s tumultuous week – and unbeaten start to the NRL season – with an impressive 40-12 comeback win over the Storm in Perth.
Melbourne captain Cameron Smith was a last-minute scratching at nib Stadium after his back seized up in the warm-up and the Storm were unable to overcome his absence despite racing to an early 10-0 lead.
Apart from missing Smith’s leadership and attacking smarts, the Storm even conceded a rare differential penalty for not packing correctly into a scrum without their Test hooker.
It was the final insult following a turbulent five days for the Storm after their Monday night win over Newcastle was overshadowed by a broken neck to young Knights back-rower Alex McKinnon.
McKinnon, who was placed in an induced coma on Tuesday, remains in a critical but stable condition in a Melbourne hospital after undergoing emergency spinal surgery.
Storm prop Jordan McLean was granted permission by the NRL judiciary to play in Saturday night’s match, with his dangerous throw charge to be heard next Wednesday after the matter was deferred out of respect for McKinnon.
Understood to be deeply distressed about his chief involvement in the three-man tackle gone wrong on McKinnon, McLean was offered counselling by NRL welfare officers during the week and didn’t have the happiest of nights in Perth either.
He reacted slowly defending his line to allow the Bulldogs into the match through a 25th-minute converted try to halfback Trent Hodkinson.
Hodkinson’s effort sparked a run of seven unanswered tries from the Bulldogs after Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk had created four-pointers in the seventh and 14th minutes to fullback Billy Slater and centre Will Chambers in a slick start from the competition leaders.
The Bulldogs had their own troubles, losing strike forward Frank Pritchard to a first-half ankle injury, while prop James Graham bravely soldiered on – and ultimately clinched victory for his side with a try on the hour – despite copping two heavy head knocks.
With Graham and halves Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds starring, the Bulldogs racked up 40 points for the second time in three matches.
After his side trailed early, Hodkinson’s sweet sideline conversion of Josh Morris’s 30th-minute try put the Dogs ahead 12-10 at halftime before a penalty goal to lock Tohu Harris, who took over Smith’s kicking duties, briefly levelled the scores just after the break.
But it was one-way traffic after that as the Bulldogs piled on further tries to interchange forwards David Klemmer, Josh Jackson, Graham, winger Chase Stanley and centre Tim Lafai to run out emphatic winners.