The Bulldogs (11-8) just couldn’t get it together against a strong Panthers team, with Penrith (12-7) winning 22-16 at ANZ Stadium on Friday night. Here are the ups and downs:
- Perrett Milestone: Fullback Sam Perrett reached a significant milestone in his NRL career on Friday night, with the game against the Panthers being his 200th in the league. He marked the occasion with a stark return to form at the Fullback position, vacated by Mitch Brown, who had played well enough in Perrett’s absence that Brown may have even had the edge in the #1 jersey going forward.
In his 200th NRL game, Perrett reminded everybody that he’s still a talented Fulback himself. He’s had a long and very successful career thus far, playing in Congratulation on game number 200, Sam.
- Mbye at Centre: Whilst I in no way believe it’s a long term solution, Moses Mbye is letting nobody down playing out of position at Centre. For a player who is Halfback by trade, his transition and subsequent performances at Centre have been admirable. He is unfortunately a liability in defense due to his size, and is sometimes out of position, but these things are to be expected for somebody who is vastly out of position at NRL level, much less a rookie.
He’s proved to be more than willing to do the ‘dirty work’ associated with the Centre position such as taking hard runs into the teeth of the opposition forwards, and is actually quite a capable tackler – especially on the back of his ability to diagnose and react to plays unfolding before him.
- Wrong kind of streak: Remember when the Bulldogs were the undisputed comeback kids of the sporting world this year, winning three game consecutively by a margin of 1 point? If you’re struggling to, it’s because it feels like a long time ago. This team just isn’t playing the same caliber of Football as it was amidst that run of form, is of stark contrast to the performances of the past three game, which have all been losses.
The Bulldogs’ current streak is an unenviable one, and it will take the resiliency the team was not so long ago synonymous with, and it will require it with some urgency. The Finals are fast approaching, and the NRL ladder has many teams around the same number of competition points as the Bulldogs. They’re at the stage of the season where they still well and truly control their own destiny. A return to their winning ways, and they remain in contention for a top-four finish. A few more losses, and it’s not just about whether the team is among the top tier of the NRL, but about making the post-season at all.
A very important few weeks coming up for Canterbury-Bankstown.
- Rough returns: In what should be in the ‘Up’ category of this breakdown, both Chase Stanley and Josh Reynolds made their returns to the NRL from injury and suspension respectively. However, neither player enjoyed the return they were after.
In another chapter of bad injury luck for Stanley, he appeared to have dislocated his shoulder in a Try scoring attempt and did not return to the field. This was his first game back since Week 13 of the season due to a different injury.
Reynolds on the other hand failed to assert himself in any meaningful way. Normally the attacking spark for the Buldogs, Reynolds failed to get involved, rarely touching the ball and doing very little with the ball when he did get his hands on it. Nerves after a stint on the sideline? A niggling injury perhaps? Maybe a lack of energy or concentration? Regardless, Reynolds was beyond pedestrian in his return to the team, and the attack suffered for it.
However as my next point will attest, the problem with the Bulldogs’ attack is seemingly bigger than Reynolds’ lackluster return.
- Passive attack: There was a point in the telecast where Andrew Johns summed up the inept Bulldogs offense perfectly. ‘They’re just not clicking’. It may or may not be as simple as Johns surmised, but the attacking woes of the Bulldogs are real nonetheless. The halves were far too passive. Hodkinson may have gotten a free pass the past few weeks with the larger than normal responsibility he has had to absorb in Reynolds’ absence. Somehow though, the attack appeared worse with Reynolds’ return to the lineup. Attacking sequences were too few and far between, and when they did appear, their execution was sub-par at best. Passes were in front or behind intended receivers, people ran the wrong lines, and ball movement was slow. There was no polish on set plays, and no urgency in their execution. Seemingly, there was no purpose to their efforts. To put it bluntly, the team, especially in attack, severely lack cohesion at the moment.
Both Hodkinson and Reynolds simply need to do more. They can’t rely on their impressive set of forwards to be the catlayst, and since Ben Barba’s departure, the team has not had an x-factor that can make something from nothing. Thus, to get the most out of their attacking personnel, they much be both creative and efficient, relying on sound strategy and high levels of execution. This responsibility falls on both Hodkinson and Reynolds, along with captain and next most influential ballplayer, Michael Ennis.
- Officiating: This is the second week in a row the Bulldogs have been on the wrong end of some less than stellar officiating. In the first half alone, three Bulldogs Tries were denied by the video referee. Two of them I can understand to a certain degree. However, the Tim Lafai No Try call was the definition of a head scratcher. The rules state that in the event of the player losing contact with the ball (evidenced by visible separation between player and ball), they must regain complete control of the ball. This, from memory, was the line of thinking the was ruled against Lafai. The only problem is, there was never any visible separation between Lafai and the ball. Thus, he could literally have only a pinky finger on the ball, and the Try is to be valid. Lafai, as it were, had multiple fingers on the ball – enough to deem a Try. The on-field decision was a Try, thus the evidence necessary to overturn the call had to be insurmountable and definitive. Quite simply, that just was not the case in any shape or form. 9/10 fans of the game could tell you as much, much less people with a wealth of experience in the game of Rugby League.
In no way am I even trying to blame the officiating for the loss, the Bulldogs did not deserve to win that game whatsoever. However, the officiating for the better part of this season has been a major concern, and the NRL should be worried. A review of process, rules and just about everything is required. And sooner rather than later. As in, this off-season.
Play of the game: Corey Thompson’s effort to evade defenders in his own in-goal in the 61st effort was nothing short of phenomenal. He was outnumbered, went one way, stopped on a dime and went the other, and somehow out-ran the kick-chase to return to the field of play. Incredible. Thompson has really come on as quite the player this season.
Key stat: Completion rate – 25/40. That is merely 62.5%, which is abundantly poor by NRL standards, and is symptomatic of the uninspired play in attack and poor execution that has been seen as of late.