Round 20 saw the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs record a comfortable victory over the Parramatta Eels in the Bandaged Bear Cup, winning 40-12. Here are my thoughts on what was a solid, but by no means perfect win by the Bulldogs, including ‘Rapid Reaction’, a summary of the game, and ‘4 up, 4 down’, which highlights the main positives and negatives of the game.
Scorelines of such disparity are usually attributed to one of two things in sport:
- The victorious side played remarkably well.
- The losing side played well below their best.
The round 20 clash between traditional rivals, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and the Parramatta Eels was more a combination of those two factors rather than one of them in particular. In patches, the Bulldogs showed why they were one of the last two teams standing last year. At times, they executed well in attack, particularly in the first-half when they raced out to a 16-0 lead after just 10 minutes, and made it 22-0 just 10 minutes later at the quarter-mark of the game.
The Eels however seemed to regain their focus, and held the Bulldogs to that 22 point lead going in to half-time, while creating a few attacking chances for themselves as the half came to a close.
The fear for any team that has built itself a substantial lead early in the match is complacency. Players tend to get lazy and drop their intensity, leading to a conservative style of play aimed at protecting the lead rather than decisively putting the game out of the reach of the opposition. It is this complacency, when coupled with a resurgent effort from the trailing team that can lead to the most unlikely of comebacks, and drive both coaches and fans alike crazy in the process. If seemingly dominant teams aren’t careful, they can invite teams back in to a contest with such complacency.
This fear was quickly erased however once the second-half was just 3 minutes old, with English international James Graham crossing for his first ever Try as a Bulldog, much to his own delight. The Bulldogs ran in two more tries to extend their lead to 40-0 by the 60th minute of the game. Sounds like quite the performance, right?
Not so fast. To their credit, the Eels did not give up. They managed to score 12 unanswered points to preserve a semblance of pride, including a nice finish by young winger Semi Radradra off a Ben Roberts kick as time expired. The Bulldogs also got sloppy as the game progressed, piling up errors with at times overzealous offensive play, and a few momentary lapses in defense.
Overall, a solid performance by the Bulldogs against a team in the midst of one of their worst seasons in recent memory. They now have a 10-8 record for the season after back-to-back wins as they look to find form for the remainder of the regular season.
4 up, 4 down:
- Bandaged Bear Cup: In sport (much like society at large), the bad things get too much attention, and the good things get overlooked. This annual fixture between the two rivals is also known as the Bandaged Bear Cup, which aims to highlight and celebrate the terrific work done by the wonderful staff at Westmead Children’s Hospital. Players from both teams spend time with patients during the week, the patients and their families do a lap of honour prior to kickoff, and the smiles come out in bunches. It’s a proud moment both for those being celebrated and the teams that make the effort to celebrate these people. Worth every smile. Both teams are worthy of praise for their work off the field with this cause every year.
- Point differential: With the back -to-back victories forming a combined scoreline of 79-12, the Bulldogs receive a much needed boost to their for-and-against differential which now stands at +38. This could well be of significance if the team ends up on the same amount of competition points as any other teams come playoff time, either for seeding within the top 8, or even being the difference between making the playoffs, and missing them.
- Hodkinson homes in: Since his return to the starting lineup, Trent Hodkinson has been a revelation, effectively leading the team around the field, showing good decision making in attack and showcasing his supremely underrated defensive ability. However much of the focus has been on his remarkable run of goal-kicking accuracy, at one point converting well over 90% of his attempts. Recently he fell in to a bit of a slump, uncharacteristically missing more than he made. Tonight he got his goal-kicking back on track, slotting 6/7, with the lone miss striking the upright. That success should boost his confidence with the boot.
- Kasiano returns: Impact prop-forward Sam Kasiano returned to the field after an extended absence due to injury, bringing the playing roster as close as it’s been to full strength as it’s been for a while. The timing couldn’t be better, with the team in the thick of the playoff hunt, even edging toward a top-4 finish as the club tries to find form heading in to the business end of the season.
- Barba sidelined: Just as boom Fullback Ben Barba seemed to be well on the way to regaining his electric 2012 form, Barba hobbled off the field after succumbing to what appeared to be an ankle injury sustained in the process of scoring a Try in the 9th minute. It initially seemed as though he would run it off, however after attention from the medical staff, he left the field and did not return. Luckily for the team, he was not needed, going on to win comfortably. His absence didn’t go unnoticed however, with the attacking play suffering from poor execution and timing without him. His situation is one to monitor going forward.
- Errors: Despite the lopsided result, the team still managed to make more mistakes than it probably should have, compiling 16 errors. That’s too many, even with the scoreline turning out the way it did. This could be classified as nitpicking, but it would have been nice to see them find that killer instinct and play the way they are capable of playing. Ultimately, it wasn’t required.
- Mild complacency: Yes, they managed to overcome the fear I previously alluded to. However, that doesn’t mean they played free of some undesirable lapses both in attack and defense, as evidenced by their high error count, and letting the Eels score those 12 points towards the end of the game. The team wasn’t as clinical as you’d ideally like them to be against a much weaker opponent, especially when having a larger margin of victory would have made the modest improvement to their points differential even better. They had a chance to markedly improve their for-and-against. Those chances don’t come around all that often. Hopefully it’s not a factor that needs to be relied upon later in the season.
- Farewell, Todd. This technically isn’t a ‘down’ to do with the game itself, however I would be remiss not to mention the loss of such a pivotal part of the club’s revival. Tonight’s game was the final Bulldogs game with Todd Greenberg at the helm of CEO, with the talented administrator taking up a senior role at the NRL itself on August 1. The role he played in transitioning the club from one riddled with drama to a franchise now considered a benchmark not just in the NRL, but in Australian sport, is nothing short of remarkable. I’ll save a more detailed analysis of Todd’s impact on the club for a later date, but any time a franchise loses such a classy and well-respected member of it’s team, much less at the position of CEO, it’s a somewhat sad day.