Today, the Bulldogs (4-2) take on the Rabbitohs (3-3) in the traditional Good Friday NRL game. A win today would give Canterbury-Bankstown their 4th in a row, further solidifying their status as one of the premier teams of the NRL thus far this season. Here’s what to watch for. (Kick-0ff 4pm AEST, ANZ Stadium, Sydney – TV coverage: Fox Sports)
- Life without Pritchard: In unfortunate news, Frank Pritchard returned from an ankle injury last week only to suffer a more serious one. Pritchard has torn his pectoral muscle, a significant injury. He has already undergone the requisite surgery and is set to miss at least 3 months of Football, possibly 4. This means that the team is not only without a key contributor on the field, but also a leader. Pritchard leaves a void large enough in the on-field production department, much less the leadership one. It seems like other co-captain Michael Ennis may take sole custody of the leadership role in Pritchard’s absence. But somebody is going to have to step up and account for the plays Pritchard provides in games. Who is it going to be? Tony Williams has played himself in to some good form to start this season, but with somebody as impactful as Pritchard it may take contributions from more than just one player to fill the void. Look for players like the undersized and underrated Josh Jackson to have more of an impact, along with the likes of Dale Finucane and the aforementioned Williams. Pritchard’s fellow New Zealand international Greg Eastwood should also not be forgotten in this equation. He too is making his way back from injury and has looked sharp in limited touches so far. He too could now be fighting for extra playing time.
- Dogs of war: One can’t help but notice the grit on display from this 2014 Bulldogs team. The last two one point come from behind victories attest to this notion, but within those games, the pack of forwards in particular has often lived up to the moniker of the ‘Dogs of war’. There have been some very physical encounters between forward packs in Bulldogs games this year, and the Bulldogs collection of forwards have embraced the physicality. Even though the Bulldogs are without Frank Pritchard, and the Rabbitohs too down key members in Sam Burgess and Ben Te’o, this game should see the trend of tenacity continue. On this note, defensively the Bulldogs lead all of the NRL in missed tackels (in a good way), recording the fewest so far this season (114). The second fewest? The Rabbitohs (123). Defense, and the physical nature of the two imposing forward packs should feature prominently in this game.
- Halves recovery: Both Halfback Trent Hodkinson and Five-Eighth Josh Reynolds have enjoyed their fair share of form and praise so far this season. To the point where both are in the State of Origin selection conversation, not to mention both featuring in the heroic final moments of the back to back 1 point victories over the last 2 weeks. However, as mentioned in my post-game analysis of the win over the Warriors, both players failed to capitalise on plenty of possession to put the Warriors away far earlier than they ended up having to. There were periods of sloppy sets with the ball, with more than a few poor ends to attacking sets. The last-tackle options need to improve, especially in the kicking game, or we’ll all have to get used to a frantic final 10 minutes where games will be closer than they should be. Or even worse, losses that could have and should have been wins. To be capable of building on the wave of momentum the team is currently riding, they need more consistency in the direction and organisation of attacking play. These things fall squarely upon the shoulders of the halves pairing of Hodkinson and Reynolds. This could be seen as a bit of a nitpick, but heroics and potential representative honours aside, I’m sure both would be the first to admit that this is an area that needs some work.
- Potential Kasiano surprise: Des Hasler is no stranger to late game day roster changes. Sam Kasiano has quietly been returning from injury, playing a few games in the Bulldogs reserve grade side, where he has turned in some good performances. Good enough to warrant a return to NRL action? We will find out soon enough, just don’t be surprised to see Sam Kasiano’s imposing figure run out for the Bulldogs this week. He could wind up also being a key piece of the equation used to replace the productivity of Frank Pritchard.