On the back of their gritty 9-8 victory over reigning Champions the Roosters, the Bulldogs (3-2) travel to New Zealand to take on the Warriors (2-3) on Sunday in search of win number 4 for the season. Here’s what to watch for. (Kick-off 2.00pm AEST, Eden Park, New Zealand – TV coverage: Fox Sports)
- Potential Pritchard return: Co-captain Frank Pritchard has had an up and down start to the 2014 campaign. Seemingly relishing the role of co-captaincy, Pritchard opened the season playing some inspired Football. He was tough and committed in defense whilst packing a punch with the ball in attack. However he sustained an ankle injury in the demolition of the Melbourne Storm in Week 4 and subsequently missed the Week 5 clash with the Roosters. Reports seem to suggest that Pritchard made the trip to New Zealand with the team after being named on an extended bench in Tuesdays team list. This early in the season, both Pritchard and the club would probably be best served exercising patience in his return from injury. However, the fact the team decided to have him travel with the team seems to suggest he is very close to making a return to the field. If he does suit up, both his performance and his injury bear watching.
- The steady rise of Tony Williams: It appears that the polarising figure that has been Tony Williams in a Bulldogs uniform is finally finding his feet with the team. Williams still has his moments in defense (often due to the bad defensive habit of setting your feet whilst reading the play), but with the ball he has been powerful and tough to stop whilst also initiating some second-phase play. He’s running hard. He’s holding on to the ball. He’s making people bounce off him and creating attacking opportunities on the back of his speed and power. This is the kind of stuff people thought the Bulldogs signed up for once the ink dried on his Bulldogs contract. Will his ascension continue?
- Reynolds in sky blue form?: Much talk this week has centred on the potential for Josh Reynolds to challenge for the spot of James Maloney at 5/8th in the NSW Origin team. Whilst I am often the first person in the Josh Reynolds corner, a long admirer of his passion for the game and his attacking ability, I also believe he isn’t there. Yet. He’s just not as consistent as you would like to handle the Origin arena, and his kicking game has been sub-par thus far this season. I’m not saying he won’t ever get there. There’s a lot of time between now and Origin 1 for him to become a more consistent playmaker and hone the finer points of his kicking game. There is no denying his attacking flair and raw tenacity playing the game, both tailor made for Origin Football. I just don’t quite think he’s there. Yet.
- Stanely out, Brown in – but where’s Krisnan?: Chase Stanley has been one of the bright spots among many in the Bulldogs’ season so far. He unfortunately suffered a shoulder injury in the Week 5 win against the Roosters and is said to be out for at least 3 weeks. However, Mitch Brown has sufficiently recovered from his own injuries and has been named in Stanley’s wing spot. This is interesting as the club currently has New Zealand international Krisnan Inu playing in reserve grade. More pertinently, they have had the chance to fill vacant spots in the Bulldogs NRL roster twice, and have chosen both Tim Lafai and Mitch Brown respectively instead each time. When in form, Inu is a threat in attack every time he touches the ball, is a big target in the aerial kicking game and is also quite a physical presence in defense. These are all things any side could undoubtedly benefit from having on the field. He also has the versatility to cover both the Wing and Centre positions with ease. So, why the trepidation? It could merely just be a case of working on his match fitness before ushering him into the NRL starting lineup. There could also be some minor injury setbacks limiting his ability. Or the club may just not be convinced he has the ability at this point in time to warrant selection over players like Lafai and Brown. But as time goes on, his omission imbues intrigue.