Burton boosts Blues claims as Bulldogs bulldoze Dragons after Bird grounded by ankle injury


Matt Burton didn’t quite bash down the State of Origin selection door but he definitely gave his chances a major boost by orchestrating Canterbury’s second-half surge to sink St George Illawarra. 

With the Dragons’ edge defence crumbling after Jack Bird went off with an ankle injury late in the first half, the Dogs ran in seven unanswered tries to register a resounding 44-12 victory on Thursday night at Accor Stadium. 

Bird appeared to have suffered a broken leg as he writhed in agony after tackling Bronson Xerri but club medicos are hopeful he may have only suffered a lesser syndesmosis injury in the only bright spot for the beaten visitors.

Burton scored a try in each half and steered Canterbury towards the weak link in the opposition defensive line after Bird limped off but it remains to be seen whether that will be enough to seal his selection ahead of Jarome Luai and Cody Walker in the race to be the NSW five-eighth alongside Nicho Hynes for Origin I on June 5 at the same venue.

Canterbury’s changes pay off

After narrow defeats to a depleted Penrith side and Canberra, coach Cameron Ciraldo shook up his side with halfback Drew Hutchison paying the price with Toby Sexton called up.

“He’s got all the tools” Knights Immortal Andrew Johns said on Nine commentary in stating his belief that the former Titans playmaker could be a long-term NRL halfback. 

The Sexton-Burton combination seemed to work although the Dogs were a hair off the pace in the opening 40 minutes.

St George Illawarra struck first in the 13th minute via Moses Suli when a Ben Hunt cut-out pass fooled Stephen Crichton. 

“He goes far enough into the line to attract defenders,” Johns gushed, “gives his outside men some time. That was perfect halfback play.” 

Burton squared the ledger when he won the race to a Sexton grubber before Dragons hooker Jacob Liddle burrowed over from close range for a 12-6 half-time lead. 

Jaeman Salmon fends off Tom Eisenhuth. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Bird’s injury looked nasty but while his prognosis turned out to not be as dire as first feared, his absence in the defensive line was a huge problem for the Dragons given they had selected four forwards on the bench, forcing Shane Flanagan to shift Matt Eisenhuth to left centre. 

The Bulldogs ran past Eisenhuth and an equally inept Luciano Leilua for Jaeman Salmon to make it 12-12 early in the second half and were unlucky to concede a penalty which piggybacked Canterbury downfield a short time later when Hunt was ruled to have made a second effort to drag Xerri over the sideline.

“I can’t believe that’s a penalty. That’s a dud call,” Johns fumed.

Canterbury cashed in on the next set when winger Jacob Kiraz sped past Eisenhuth and Leilua’s arm grabs to put Salmon over again. Nobody can accuse that Dog of being weak-gutted. Surely. 

Kiraz crossed for a four-pointer of his own midway just before the hour mark, running through that same right-side channel, to give the Dogs a 24-12 lead and the tiring Dragons were on the ropes.

Second-rower Jacob Preston completed the onslaught down the western edge of the ground as Leilua again snatched at thin air and the contest was over.

When Zac Lomax was marched for a professional foul in a Xerri near-miss for a try, the floodgates opened wider still with Burton and Kiraz grabbing their second and Crichton also cashing in.

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