The Bulldogs (11-8) look to end their three game losing streak when they play against the Brisbane Broncos (9-10) tonight. Here’s what to watch for.(Kick-off: 7.45pm AEST, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. – TV coverage: delayed telecast on Channel 9 – 9.30pm start).
- Backline shuffle continues: The players in the positions allotted to the numbers 1 through 5 (both Wings, Both Centres, Fullback) have have been anything but consistent in terms of appearances this season for the Bulldogs. However, this week should see the first semblance of stability the backline has seen in a long time, with Sam Perrett at Fullback, Mitch Brown returning to the Wing, and Josh Morris again named to make his return to the NRL at Centre following the knee injury he sustained in Origin 1.
With Des Hasler and the game day roster, nothing is a formality. But if it holds true, the edges of the field should be a little more stable. Both in attack, and defense. Especially with the return of a healthy Josh Morris.
- Attacking potency: As was examined in detail in my last post (review of the Panthers loss), the Bulldogs attack has become alarmingly stagnant. As I surmised in that post, the success of the attack is predicated upon cohesion and execution, both of which fall squarely on the shoulder on the Origin caliber halves the Bulldogs now boast, Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds. They were far too passive last week in Reynolds’ return game. They both need to be organised and efficient.
The numbers more than support this concern. Over 19 games, the Bulldogs have scored only 61 Tries. That ranks 13th in the NRL out of 16 teams. Of even more concern, the Bulldogs rank equal 15th in the league (second last) in Linebreaks with 66. Only the struggling Gold Coast Titans have fewer.
With regard to the Bulldogs attack, both quality and quantity require significant improvements. This game is a great opportunity for the attack to thrive. If the team is going to do any damage in the playoffs, the attacking potency of the team not only needs to improve, but the improvements must also be sustained.
- Who makes the bench?: Head Coach Des Hasler has listed a longer than usual selection of interchange players. The players are; David Klemmer, Dale Finucane, Lloyd Perrett, Moses Mbye, Reni Maitua, and perhaps most intriguingly, Aiden Tolman.
A Tolman return would be huge for the team, as the Forwards have been lacking some productivity in the tougher parts of the game in his absence. The list must be culled from 6 to 4 for the game. Even if Tolman doesn’t make the cut this week, it’s encouraging to see his name listed among game day possibilities and suggests a return is imminent.
- Barba in unfamiliar territory: We all know the Ben Barba story by now. But despite being at his new home ground, he will be out of his comfort zone. He’s playing not at his customary Fullback position where he flourished as Bulldog, but in a play-making role at Five-Eighth. Bulldogs faithful know just how much of a threat Barba is any time he touches the ball, but it will be interesting to see how how performs in such a different configuration.
With regard to skill-set, Ben Barba simply isn’t the same type of player as the notable Five-Eighths that come to mind. Think Johnathan Thurston (equally a Halfback), Gareth Widdop, Jamie Soward and past names such as Darren Lockyer. These players, and the position of Five-Eighth has a focus on a unique blend of ball-skills and general attacking play. It’s somewhat a hybrid of the traditional playmaking role of Halfback and the attacking role of Fullback. Whilst Barba has long had the attacking part of the equation down pat (he excels at evasion due to his incredible agility, speed and vision, despite his generally poor form this season), he’s never exuded the advanced ball skills and organisational ability associated with the aforementioned names, and the position in general. Risky move for the Broncos.