The Bulldogs’ display against the under-strength Sharks was a dominant one, and earned their first victory for 2014 in the process. The Monday Night Football clash saw the team come out enthused in attack whilst remaining steady in defense. Here are the ups and downs.
Ups & Downs:
- Offensive Purpose: As the scoreline would indicate, the Bulldogs were a vastly improved attacking entity in relation to the team that only managed 1 Linebreak Week 1. This week? 6 Linebreaks. It’s no coincidence that the scoreboard reads the way it does. As was alluded to in previewing the match, the potency of the Bulldogs attack would be predicated upon a more controlled performance by their halves, Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds. Not only were they more proficient in organising the attack and ensuring it was well executed, they both managed a Linebreak each. The difference in attack was night and day between Week 1 and 2. Hopefully the Week 2 version is the kind seen more consistently.
- Sharp Hodkinson: Halfback Trent Hodkinson turned in a Man of the Match performance. As previously mentioned, he played a key role in the offensive output the team was able to generate, leading the team in attack by not only ensuring structure was organised and efficient, but also playing what the defense gave him in less structured circumstances, as evidenced by his nifty lead up work to Chase Stanley’s second Try of the night. His organisation and execution was impressive, his kicking game was on point, and he was a perfect 7/7 on Try conversions. He also showed his support play ability in scoring a Try of his own, receiving a late Tony Williams pass right before the Tryline. He finished with 18 points, a fine performance by the often underrated Halfback.
- Chase Stanley, will he stay or will he go?: Chase Stanley turned in an impressive performance, scoring two Tries and generally looked adept with the ball in his hands. The season is only 2 weeks old, so any conclusions would be the definition of premature. However, Stanley is proving more than capable thus far in the Centre position he is filling for the injured Krisnan Inu. Inu is scheduled to return in the coming weeks. If Stanley maintains his form, it might make Inu’s return to the starting lineup less of a formality than it would have seemed initially.
- Tony Williams: Williams did make his customary error with the ball in hand, however he also showed flashes of the kind of ability that made him so sought after when off contract. On one of his runs in the red zone, it took 5 players, over a third of a defensive line, to bring him down. His combination of size and speed is exceedingly rare, and when he secures the ball and runs hard in the right areas, he is nigh impossible to stop. It is this damaging x-factor that the team would love to see on a more consistent basis. Hopefully this performance instills some more confidence in his own abilities and Williams is able to worry about playing good Football and not what people think of him.
- Shutout lost: With 8 seconds remaining, the Sharks scored a consolation Try due to a defensive lapse by the Bulldogs on their own line that saw some players out of position. Without knowing the exact scheme utilised at that moment in time, it’s hard to assign blame. Of course, this is nitpicking considering that with that amount of time left, 42 points was more than enough to win the contest. However, great coaches and players alike obsess over the details, no matter how trivial. Josh Reynolds was visibly upset at the try right on Full Time, kicking the ball away in frustration. Head Coach Des Hasler would have taken pride in being able to keep the opposition to 0, and will be sure to remind them of that lapse.
- Player Welfare: As time goes on, there will be a series of NRL related articles on various issues within the landscape of the league on this blog. A hotbed issue at the moment is the importance of player safety. The Bulldogs/Sharks match-up featured an example of a flaw in the system. The referee had stopped play due to the fact Josh Jackson was visibly shaken up from a knock to the head. At this point, surely an off-field examination should be mandatory, but none occurred. The player, nor anybody aligned with a team should be trusted with the welfare of their players in this regard. The concussion protocol currently in place is a great step forward, however it is an incomplete one. The doctors tasked with administering the protocol are not independent, they are team doctors. No matter how professional they claim to be, doctors that are truly no independent, will simply imbue a conflict of interest that just shouldn’t exist within such a serious situation. The doctors need to be independent. But in the case of Jackson’s condition toward the end of the game, he didn’t even make it to a doctor of any kind. The trainer convinced the referee that he was fine, Jackson remained on the field, and that was that.In no way am I trying to play doctor and imply that Jackson was in fact concussed. He very well may not have been. But he was stumbling severely enough that the referee decided play needed to be stopped. Surely in such a situation, players, trainers, doctors and all involved need to err on the side of caution. This won’t happen in the automatic sense it must unless the NRL as a body sets a precedent. It needs to.
Play of the game: Late in the second half, Josh Reynolds took a 20m restart, drew defenders towards him, then booted the ball downfield for a sprinting Josh Morris. The speedy Morris beat everybody else to the ball, neatly tapped it forward with his foot, regathered and finished off the Try. An excellent play, except for the fact that Morris was offside. Barely. Probably half a metre in it, but offside nonetheless. Penalty Sharks. Try averted.
So, the play of the game goes to the previously mentioned combination of Trent Hodkinsons ad-lib playmaking ability, combining with Chase Stanley for the Centre’s second Try of the game. Hodkinson received the ball from broken play in the red zone, drifted across field, executed a fake inside pass that completely fooled the defender chasing him who bit on the pass. Hokinson then motioned Stanley inside him into the gaping hole the fake created, and Stanley received the deft inside pass from Hodkinson to finish off the movement. Stanley took the ball straight to the Tryline. Great leadup. Solid finish.