I have been lucky enough to be asked to do a weekly series of Bulldogs ‘match previews’ for the good people over at http://www.bluenwhite.com.au. In the first attempt, I highlight a few points of interest heading in to the game against the Dragons.
The Bulldogs are in an interesting position this season. They have never quite hit their stride, yet still manage to sit at #5 on the NRL ladder, closing in not only a playoff berth, but a potential top 4 finish. A win against the Dragons would continue the momentum the team has been slowly building off the back of some sound, but by no means flawless victories.
Here are a few thoughts going in to the round 21 clash between the Bulldogs and the Dragons.
Kasiano watch: The big Prop made his long awaited return to the field last week against the Eels, and yielded mixed results. Some steady carries and good decisions coupled with some questionable choices in defense. It will be interesting to see how he performs in his second game back from injury as he looks to shake off the rust.
In Rugby League, the success of a team’s attack is often tied to the performance of its forward pack. Kasiano plays a pivotal role in the Canterbury-Bankstown engine room. If Kasiano finds his groove, the team is more likely to thrive with the ball in hand.
Back-line cohesion: Losing a player like Ben Barba is tough to swallow. The timing of such a loss is also less than ideal. The season is approaching a critical juncture where teams attempt to make a run of form. This will be somewhat inhibited by Barbas absence.
The extent of that effect will however be determined by the combined efforts of those asked to replace him. If last week was anything to go by, having key contributors such as Sam Perret and Krisnan Inu play well despite being shifted out of their natural positions not only displayed their respective versatility, but also showed that losing Barba isn’t the end of the world.
However, one solid showing by the teams plan to play without Barba is hardly enough of a sample size to draw any conclusions that would completely put concerns to rest. The combined efforts of Perret, Inu and the recalled Tim Lafai will go a long way in determining how big a loss Barba will ultimately be to the teams attack going forward.
Error count: Sure, the team delivered a big margin of victory last week. They even at times looked more like the efficient 2012 team than the team defined by inconsistency we have seem so far in the 2013 season.
However, despite the seemingly improved play, the Bulldogs committed far too many errors (15), that against better opposition would probably be punished. The Dragons have been a difficult team to gauge this year, often losing games they should win, and managing to win a few they probably shouldn’t (e.g., their comeback win over South Sydney).
If those mistakes are repeated, I don’t see the Dragons being as forgiving as the Eels were last week. The Bulldogs need to clean up their play if they are to start imposing their will on lesser teams the way a team that wants to contend for a title should be at this point in the season.
Summary: The best teams aren’t often the ones who are the best all year, but the ones who find form and ‘get hot’ at the right time. This is something the Bulldogs side has to do heading in to what is hopefully not only a trip to the playoffs, but a deep run into them. They have a good chance to showcase such form against the Dragons on Monday Night Football and provide a springboard for any such playoff berth and subsequent run.