AT just 23 years of age, Josh Reynolds has at least a decade of top-grade footy ahead of him.
And yet it's still unlikely he'll ever celebrate a victory as tense and tenacious as the one Canterbury ground out over Manly at Brookvale last night.
"It's definitely the toughest game I've ever played, " Reynolds said last night.
"The second half we just seemed to be on our own line defending our backsides off. We just hung in for each other."
The Bulldogs reached a completely unexpected level before almost 17,000 Sea Eagles fans who flocked to the venue with their blood boiling over Des Hasler's return to his old home.
Within 20 minutes they were reduced to 15 fit men after prop Sam Kasiano (cheek) and halfback Kris Keating (hamstring) were forced from the field.
Up 12-0 at the time, the visitors stood firm to weather a ferocious battering before heroic fullback Ben Barba completed his double two minutes from the siren to secure an eighth straight victory.
It's their longest winning streak since 2004 - the season of Canterbury's last premiership.
Guaranteed to maintain a share of top spot, Hasler could no longer hide his delight.
"It's great for the club, " Hasler said. "A game like that is a great experience for this young Bulldogs side. It's a win they will remember for a long time.
With back-rower David Stagg deputising in the halves, Reynolds was forced to take control of his team's attack and twice dragged himself off the canvas after heavy tackles to continue.
Barba was also rag-dolled and hammered under the high ball, but was close to flawless apart from a lapse that gifted Jamie Lyon the 50th minute four-pointer that sparkled Manly's revival.
Best of all, however, was British prop James Graham.
Relishing the titanic forward battle on heavy soil, Graham notched a stunning 163m from the bench and was omnipotent in defence as Canterbury tackled their way to victory.
"We don't see it as courageous, " Reynolds said.
"We came off at half-time and we knew that Kris was gone and that Sam was gone. We were just up for the challenge."
It's a challenge that won't abate ahead of next Saturday's clash against in-form North Queensland.
With Keating likely to miss the game, Canterbury now have no specialist halfback after NSW Cup No.7 Trent Hodkinson was this week ruled out for the season with a shoulder injury.
Keating twinged his left hamstring early in the match but badly aggravated the injury when he launched a regulation kick midway through the first half.
"At first it felt like a cork at the back of my leg, but then when I kicked the ball it felt like someone stabbed me, " he said.
"The physio reckons there's some good signs, but I'll just have to get scans and see."
Stagg or fiery utility Joel Romelo are Hasler's only options to partner Reynolds, but he'll need a longer-term replacement for Kasiano.
The 133kg giant was diagnosed with a depressed cheekbone fracture after a fearsome head-clash with Sea Eagles opposite Jason King in just the second minute.
But Canterbury refused to be overawed, with Barba and Sam Perrett crossing within 14 minutes.
Although they drew back to 14-12 with 20 minutes to go after tries to Lyon and King, Manly's attack lacked fluency without Brett Stewart and their kicking game gave Barba too many easy returns.
BULLDOGS 20 (B Barba 2 S Perrett tries K Inu 4 goals) SEA EAGLES 12 (J King J Lyon tries J Lyon 2 goals) at Brookvale Oval. Referee : Ben Cummins, Brett Suttor. Crowd : 16,820.