Bulldogs unstoppable this season
RUGBY LEAGUE: CHINCHILLA five-eighth Jeff Gilbert struck a last-minute field goal to cap the Bulldogs' unlikely comeback against Roma Cities last weekend.
Gilbert's unerring kick was the difference as Chinchilla overturned a substantial second half deficit to defeat Cities 17-16 at Bulldog Park, almost certainly booking a place in the R&D major semi-final.
After 13 rounds in the premiership, Chinchilla leads on 44 points. They are on course to confront either Cities or Wallumbilla/Surat in the play-offs at Roma.
The weekend clash always promised to be special. Chinchilla and Cities are attuned to the other's likely strategies. Their rugby league CV's are not dissimilar. Chinchilla last won the Roma A Grade competition in 2014, Cities took home the silverware in seasons 2016 - 2017.
It rankled with the Roma team that they were second best in earlier meetings with Chinchilla this season, albeit in knife-edge contests. Pleasantries were put aside.
In a feverish final quarter, Chinchilla's inspirational captain/halfback Anthony Horswood was twice sin-binned, not your everyday occurrence. His second term in the bin came as the players took to sorting grievances, real or imagined. A Cities' bench player accompanied the Bulldogs skipper.
Order was soon restored but Horswood glimpsed Gilbert's Thurston-like heroics from the sideline.
Horswood's performance was crucial. No one in the Bulldogs line-up hits as hard in the ruck area and, even by his own high standards, his involvement was outstanding. Amid some feisty passages of play in the second half Cities lost their way.
The Bulldogs were markedly better.
Yet the enthusiastic Roma team began with a flourish. They were generally quicker, shifting the ball wide early in the tackle count in search of a way through the Chinchilla line. In defence the nettle-some Cities pack was uncompromising.
In contrast, Chinchilla squandered scoring opportunities, mainly on the left side. Once, frustratingly, the ball was lost over the line.
Cities' enterprise brought tries to Joey Packer (10th minute) and Billy Coonan (20th). Coonan's second try, five minutes into the second half, moved the margin to 16 with the Bulldogs seemingly headed to the casualty ward. Victims, maybe, of a Roma-made speed hump!
Justin Travers' determined 58th minute try sparked the Chinchilla resurgence; fullback Romada Barnes added to Cities' unease three minutes later and when Tom Dodd posted a third in the 71st minute the winds of change were blowing through Bulldog Park.
Regardless, the visitors must have had a better fate had Packer succeeded with a penalty kick two minutes from the end. Cities unsuccessfully claimed a Bulldogs infringement warranted a harsher outcome. Alas, Packer's shot veered left.
Given the circumstances the protagonists had to share the spoils. Surely!
Gilbert's intervention changed the storyline. The big fellow, lurking behind the play-the-ball when the Bulldogs worked play down field on the back of a free kick, hit the ball cleanly with his right foot. Cities players arrived too late to smother the chance.
"It's enough to make to make a grown man cry,” bemoaned one blue-jerseyed Cities fan at the bar afterwards.