The much-anticipated match on Saturday at The Swamp proved a heart stopper as both teams battled tooth and nail for the maximum points to improve their chances of winning the minor premiership.
It was the Eels who took the early lead after a flamboyant performance in the opening spell.
The home side raced to a 16-6 lead with tries from Lai Rogorogoivalu, Aaron Enoka and Lui Nicholas.
Bulldogs, with a decent share of possession, managed to score a lone try through James Tofilau.
The Eels, who also had the services of their veteran player Bilsy Gukisuva, were rampant in the opening spell, making some hard yards to gain territory and possession.
The side worked superbly with a powerful play from their forwards to feed their speedster backline with ball to sprint down to the try line.
The visitors also had their moments but were denied by a stubborn defence from the Eels.
In the second half, the Bulldogs came back much better after Eels skipper Sirla Pera extended their lead to 22-6 early in the spell.
A try from them followed by another one from the Eels brought life to the match, which had earlier seemed to go the latter’s way.
Bulldogs scored another try through lanky Sailosi Nagi to trail 26-18 before Eddie Qio crossed the whitewash to bring the match within fighting distance 26-24.
The side tried hard in the final five minutes but Eels luckily survived with a defiant defending to walk away with a crucial 26-24 win.
Eels coach Albert Nicholas was content with the win but said the battle for the minor premiership was not over, with Arorangi Bears standing in their way.
The win over the weekend sees them leading on 15 points ahead of the Bulldogs which is on 14 points while Tupapa Panthers remain on 13 after a shock loss to Takuvaine Warriors.
“We had it in the first 60 minutes as per our preparation and it’s just that last 15 minutes we let it go. Obviously the Bulldogs came back hard.” Nicholas said.
“Like I said in the past couple of weeks, I don’t think there is any easy games in the top three.
“But credit to the Bulldogs, they came back hard but it was our day. When we visited them, it was their day but still a lot of work to do.”
Bulldogs coach Meti Noovao said they were unfortunate to lose the match but congratulated the Eels for standing tall especially in the dying stages of the match.
“We had a slow start in the match and no excuses for that. The boys trained well, we prepared well. The plan was to control them in the defence,” Noovao said.
“We started to come back in the latter stages but we were a little bit too late. Eels played a very good game and they deserved this win.
“Unfortunately, we just fell short of that mark.”
In the other premier match on Friday, the Aitutaki Sharks defeated Ngatangiia/Matavera Sea Eagles at Nukupure Park to remain in the run for a semifinal berth.