For the second week in a row, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have recorded a victory by the slimmest possible margin – 1 point. The team defeated the New Zealand Warriors at Eden Park 21-20 after scoring 3 points in the final 5 minutes, all courtesy of Trent Hodkinson. The team is now 4-2 and is in the midst of solidifying a spot near the top of the NRL ladder. Here are the ups and downs.
- Hodkinson heroics: With under 5 minutes left in regulation, the Bulldogs were awarded a penalty 28 metres out from the opposition Tryline, the spot closer to the sideline than the posts. With the score 20-18 in favour of the Warriors, Hodkinson was given a chance the level the scores with an attempt at a penalty goal. As has become a common sight in the past couple of seasons, the ball was struck sweetly and accurately by the Halfback and sailed through the posts. 20-20. Then with 2 minutes remaining, the Bulldogs had advanced into the redzone, well within Field Goal range. David Klemmer had just made a tough surge up the middle of the Warriors defense. Both Hodkinson and Five-Eighth Josh Reynolds were aligned in the same Field-Goal winning formation that saw them seal victory over the Roosters – Hodkinson set to the left, with Reynolds a little further back and wide to his right ready as an outlet in case the pressure on Hodkinson would negate the viability of his attempt (as was the case against the Roosters, where Reynolds kicked the winning point). This time, Hodkinson pulled the trigger himself, and struck it perfectly, sending the ball yet again through the posts. 21-20. 110 seconds left. The Bulldogs lead for the first time in the entire game, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish as time ticked away. The term ‘clutch’ denotes the attribute of the calmest of nerves in the biggest of moments – the ability to make game winning plays when the outcome is on the line. Think Michael Jordan in his Chicago Bulls NBA heyday, or Tom Brady throughout his New England Patriots NFL career just to name a couple of the more prominent examples. Not to over inflate him (Jordan and Brady are two of the greatest players of all time in their respective sports), but Trent Hodkinson is adding himself to the rare collective list of players and athletes who seem to have ice running through their veins when the lights burn brightest. His coolness under pressure has been a marvel to watch. Want more proof? This isn’t even the first time his impossibly calm demeanor and accurate right boot have laid claim to the final 2 scores to win a game in his Bulldogs career. In Week 20 of the 2011 season against the Parramatta Eels, the Halfback slotted a Field Goal with 2 minutes remaining to level the scores 7-7, sending the game to overtime. In the second half of the golden point overtime period with time almost up and a draw imminent, Hodkinson had the audacity to take a shot at Field Goal from 41 metres out. The long and difficult attempt went straight through the posts. Bulldogs 8, Eels 7. Hodkinson the hero, kicking both the game-tying and game-wining points. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
- More on Hodkinson: Not to overdo the Hodkinson adulation, but I’d just like to ensure that the spotlight goes further than his right boot. Let’s not forget the critical 70 metre intercept he took and advanced right in to the Warriors red zone merely 2 minutes before his game-tying penalty goal. This was a big play in its own right and sparked a massive swing of momentum in the Bulldogs’ favour. However, an underrated side note of the play may be the most important. The much faster Josh Morris arrived in support very late, and you can slightly see Hodkinson weigh up his options, even feigning to kick for Morris. However, defenders also came with Morris, and in the split-second he had to decide whether it would be best to kick for Morris, throw an incredibly low-percentage pass to Morris, or hold the ball himself, Hodkinson made the best call. He held the ball, took the tackle, produced a quick play the ball with the Warriors defense a shambles, and trusted his teammates to get the ball over the line on the next play. Said teammates put the ball through the hands all the way to Tim Lafai on the opposite side of the field, who crossed for the key Try. He chooses the low-percentage pass or kick for Morris there, and it’s likely we’re currently in the aftermath of a close loss rather than a victory. Such decision making can’t be underrated, and has been just as marvelous as his heroics to watch. Also, the goal attempt Hodkinson was tasked with as a result of the Try his steady decision making lead to? Converted from the sideline, of course.
- Williams coming in to his own: Tony Williams has now put together a string of impressive performances. He seems to be more in tune with what makes him successful: hard-nosed running. On various occasions, his tough running hit-ups set the tone for some important sets of six with the ball. He has also become a lot more judicious with his offloads, with one to Reynolds down the right hand side of the field in the second half a great example. His work rate is up, his errors are down and he now is having a significant impact on the outcome of games. With the loss of Frank Pritchard yet again to injury, this development may become more key as the season goes on as Williams will be an important part of the attempt to fill the Pritchard void. Above all else, it’s great to see a player bounce back after absorbing the wealth of criticism leveled his way in recent time. Keep it up, Mr. Williams.
- Pritchard returns, only to be lost again: As previously mentioned, Co-captain Frank Pritchard made a steady return from injury, only to be lost to injury again, this time a shoulder issue. He left the field as soon as the injury took place in a tackle attempt on the physical Konrad Hurrell. The extent of the injury is not yet known, but judging by his instant exit it’s likely not insignificant. One to keep an eye on as the week progresses.
- Halves stagnant: As much as I’ve showered Trent Hodkinson with praise (and rightfully so) thus far, himself and Josh Reynolds had a period of relative stasis in the middle of the game, particularly in the of the second half. Last-tackle options were poor – giving the Warriors the front foot at almost every turn of possession. Attack was disorganised and despite sets of six with the ball often starting well, the halves combination of the moment in the NRL were quite poor in capitalising on the early in-roads made by the forwards, who were very impressive yet again in a very, very physical encounter. As great and exciting as come from behind last minute victories can be, I can’t help but mention that if both Hodkinson and Reynolds were more assertive in large parts of the game, the win may not have had to be so close, and the collective hearts of Bulldogs nation could have been spared many a palpitation. Luckily for the Bulldog players, coaches and fans alike, Hodkinson appears to be cold-blooded.
- Matulino/Reynolds mismatch: Both of the Warriors first two tries, which gave them a 10-0 lead early in the game, were the product of a seemingly designed exploitation of the size mismatch between big Warriors Prop Ben Matulino and the relatively diminutive Josh Reynolds. The ploy paid dividends, yielding 2 Tries and 10 points. For the Bulldogs, it should have been more actively remedied after the warning signs provided by the initial Matulino vs. Reynolds run & subsequent offload to Sam Tomkins who went on to score the Try. Success from the same Matulino/Reynolds formula seems to suggest the mismatch was a key part of the Warriors early gameplan. Yes, sometimes good Football can be as deceptively simple as executing a plan centred on a mismatch of size.
Stat of the game
- Trent Hodkinson: 100% completion percentage on kick attempts. 4/4 off the tee (3 conversions + 1 game-tying penalty goal), 1/1 Field-Goals, the game winning point.