Eels 16 – Bulldogs 18: Ups & Downs.

Eels 16 – Bulldogs 18: Ups & Downs.

The Bulldogs  have defeated the Eels 18-16 to end a four-game losing streak in a tough game that has been overshadowed by controversy. Here are the ups and downs from the annual Bandaged Bear Cup clash.

Up

  1. Bandaged Bear Cup: Every season, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and the Parramatta Eels compete for the Bandaged Bear Cup. The game (including the entire week preceding the game) is focused on celebrating the invaluable work done by the staff at Westmead Children’s Hospital and supporting their patients. Players from both teams spend time at the hospital during the week leading up to the game, patients and staff attend the game and are cheered on a lap of honour, and spirits are genuinely lifted, even if only momentarily.

    It’s a great initiative that has existed since 2007. Both clubs deserve praise for their efforts for this cause. And their work off the field in general, which  is definitely not restricted to the week of this game.


    For the record, including this win, the Bulldogs have won the past four Bandaged Bear Cups consecutively, meaning the last Eels victory in the game was in 2010.

  2. Streak ended: The Bulldogs streak of consecutive losses ends at four as they were able to overcome the resurgent Eels in what was a close, competitive encounter. It wasn’t always pretty, and the second half was at the mere two-point margin of difference for the remaining 35 minutes of play. But the intensity was much higher in all phases of the game, whether it was tough running with the ball or committed yet calm defense that saw them negate numerous Eels raids on their Tryline.

    The Bulldogs held on to that slim lead until the final siren, and are subsequently now sixth on the NRL ladder. They’re by no means the force they proved to be before the Origin series. But they’re much closer to it than they were this time last week, and are headed in the right direction. This game was almost a must-win for the team, as a fifth loss in a row would have likely seen them squeezed out of the top-eight and put under immense pressure for the remainder of the season.


    It also would have been the first time Coach Hasler had lost five games in a row since 2005.

  3. Tremendous Tolman: Aiden Tolman was nothing other than extraordinary against the Eels. In a trademark workhorse performance, Tolman gained 188 metres with the ball and tied for a team-high 41 tackles. On top of his monster statistical output, Tolman also scored a key Try in the first half.

    With the forwards vastly under-performing throughout that stretch of four straight losses, Tolman’s gritty performance came at the right time. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come, as the Bulldogs are going to need efforts such as this on a consistent basis if they are to even return to the realm of NRL contenders.

  4. T-Rex: Tony Williams has done plenty this year to deter his detractors. His form has been not just good, but consistently so. However this may just have been his best performance in a Bulldogs uniform to date. Williams was truly at his rampaging best. He was borderline unstoppable in the first half, breaking tackle after tackle and pumping his legs like never before. Almost every time he touched the ball, he was disruptive.

    His performance was a realisation of the immense potential he has always possessed. He has a rare athletic combination of size, speed and power at his disposal, and he proved that when he fires on all cylinders, that combination can cause chaos for an opposing defense.


    For a player who seems to now be forever having to prove people wrong, Williams delivered on his immense promise as an athlete. He’s been great all year. And he’s had to be, with the side losing co-captain Frank Pritchard very early in the season (who may in fact be close to a return according to some murmurs in Bulldogs circles) creating quite the void in the Bulldogs’ forward pack. But in the process of filling the void left by Pritchard, he has capitliased on the opportunity to be the impact player many hoped he would be upon his Bulldogs arrival.


    If Williams is consistently as damaging as he was against the Eels, his reputation could finally turn the corner. And with it, so too could the Bulldogs season.

  5. Little things: I previously alluded to the increased intensity the team appeared to play with. This seemed to influence myriad areas of the Bulldogs’ game, many of which had been sorely lacking in recent weeks. The attack appeared to be much more organised and direct, with execution vastly improved (89% completion rate – 33/37). The defensive line seemed to read and react what was in front of them in a cohesive manner, working together to deploy their at times troublesome ‘up and in’ defensive strategy. This was best seen by their efforts on their Tryline. There was consistently a steady flow of players covering from the inside out once an isolated edge defender had decided to come up and make a tackle – this was missing in the past month.

    The little things like effort and attention to detail were more apparent than they have been recently. These very same little things were what saw them at the top of the NRL not all that long ago. If they are to return to the level of competition contenders, the little things need to be the consistent point of emphasis in their play that they once were.


    The gap between the Bulldogs of now and the Bulldogs prior to Origin is still a large one, but this performance brought them closer to their formidable self . There are positive and encouraging signs for the team to work with going forward.

Down

  1. Last tackle: Although Trent Hodkinson put forth an improved performance, there was one area he appeared to struggle with towards the end of the game – his kicking game. Hodkinson is a talented kicker of the football (in all phases, not just his goal-kicking, which provided the difference on the scoreboard). He’s adept at both the short and long kicking games. However, there were times were he was very poor against the Eels in the short kicking department.

    Particularly, his last three or four kicks could have been much better. The Bulldogs had the opportunity to finish the game on their terms. By that I mean, they had attacking field position, and could have controlled the closing stages of the game by retaining possession and at the worst, running out the clock to full time by building up repeat sets. At best, they could have sustained possession and scored from it to put the result beyond doubt.


    But on numerous occasions late in the game, Hodkinson’s last tackle options were very poor kicks. It is in this stage of the game where the kicking game should shine, making life difficult for the opposing team by controlling field position and starving them of possession. I’m not too sure whether it was poor decision making on his part, just fatigue, or the likely mixture of both. Either way, the Bulldogs put themselves in position to control the end of the game. Hodkinson’s kicking game faltered at a time where it needed to be precise, and that made life harder for the Bulldogs than it needed to be.

  2. Jackson concussion: Josh Jackson sustained a concussion early in the game and did not return. His availability going forward will be worth monitoring, but it was good to see the concussion protocol followed. Not that such a thing should deserve prasie, but what should be a formality in putting player safety above all else has been anything but.
  3. Ball boy debacle: The game ended in a somewhat controversial manner, and it has beyond overshadowed what was a good game of Football. Eels Halfback Chris Sandow kicked a 40/20, meaning Parramatta were entitled to a set of possession in terrific field position for them. However, a breakdown in the protocol following a successful 40/20 attempt overshadowed the 78 minutes of Football that preceded, reduced a ball boy to tears, and has dominated sports media since.

    Per the NRL rulebook, the ball boy is required to place the ball on the sideline where the official has determined the ball to have gone out of play. Instead, in the heat of a close contest that had reached a crucial juncture following a big play, the ball boy passed the ball to a nearby Eels player, who then passed it to Sandow.


    A successful 40/20 used to earn the team who completed it a scrum for their possession. This year, the rule changed to a quick-tap instead of a scrum, presumably to encourage and foster more attacking play within games. Sandow (attempted) to take the quick tap after the protocol was breached, and essentially had a free run at the Tryline, where if play were not held up he would have scored the match-winning Try.


    Due to the breach however, the referee stopped play, and had it corrected. The Eels then lost the ball on the subsequent set of six, and the result remained 18-16 in the Bulldogs’ favour.


    What ensued was simply astounding. People blasted the ball boy on social media, and reportedly at the venue, to the point the poor kid cried himself to sleep that night. And can you blame him, with what would have seemed like the world blaming him for his beloved football team losing the game?


    There are various points I’d like to make here.

    1. Anybody willing to blame the innocent mistake of a 12 year old boy for the loss of a professional sporting game is the very definition of delusional and ignorant. Social media was awash with such delusion and ignorance in the game’s aftermath. Even injured Eels player Nathan Peats seemed to lay blame on the ball boy. I surely don’t have to explain how wrong it is that a professional athlete did such a thing.

      There will always be ignorant fans blinded by cognitive biases aplenty, but this was something else altogether. Firstly, 78 minutes preceded that one decision, all of which had just as much of an impact on the final score as the ball boy. The Eels compiled 11 errors, any of which could have been a game winning play. Can’t pigeonhole one error or penalty, from officials or players, for the result of a game. Mistakes happen. Bad calls happen. Has to be lived with.


      Secondly, we’re talking about a kid. Someone’s child. And there is no reason for him to suffer the the abuse leveled his way, much less over the result of a game. He didn’t kill anybody, he misplaced a ball. From what was evidenced on social media, there are many people (mostly adults, unfortunately) that need to take a long hard look at themselves. I sincerely hope the child receives the support he deserves on every level, and that everybody naive enough to treat him so unfairly see’s the error in their ways.

    2. Unfortunately, an error was made. Had the call been executed correctly, the Bulldogs defense likely has more time to regroup. Not much time.. but time nonetheless, meaning Sandow scoring was not a formality. The Eels were in no way robbed here. Nobody can definitively say what happens either way if things went the way they should have in terms of the call. He might have scored anyway, or the Eels may have scored a few plays later. The Bulldogs may have stopped them. We will never know.
    3. Sandow doesn’t even tap the ball correctly, which contributes to the speed of his advantage. The rulebook states that yes, the ball can be tapped on a player’s knee, not just his foot (despite having personal experience in games of this being false myself, and seeing it called back at NRL level). Upon further review however, the ball doesn’t even get to his knee. It hits his thigh, and Sandow is off, deeming the play invalid regardless.
    4. The kick was dangerously close to being out on the full. Regardless of anything else, the kick should have been reviewed at such a critical point of the game to be sure. From what I’ve seen and read, it wasn’t. If it was, the whole debacle would be even more moot than it should already be.
    5. The rule itself is the overriding problem here. I understand the league trying to enhance opportunities for attacking play and providing incentives within the rules of the game to do so. But the opportunity for a ‘quick-tap’ on top of what is already a free set of possession for what is essentially just an accurate kick? Ridiculous in my opinion. And that is no disrespect to the act of an accurate kick, it is a rare skill that should be rewarded and provides an exciting dynamic to the game. But in this instance, it is far too much reward for in relation to the act that delivers it.

      If properly executed, a kicker could make the 40/20, make sure his Wing player sprints down with him to receive the ball on the sideline and pass it to him, and then tap the ball and run at the Tryline unabated – essentially a free Try. All for an accurate kick. Just not in the spirit of the game at all, and highly illogical.


      Either reform the rule and have it be a regular tap restart, where the defense gets the chance to regroup, or return it to a scrum.

    6. The rule that has brought this situation upon the NRL community, where the ball boy is to put the ball on the line and only do as such, was ironically brought in to remove any influence a ball boy could have on the game. However, the fact that a key part of the game is predicated upon children of such young age is also a potential issue. We may have in essence seen the last of the ball boy at NRL games after this season. If they are to be retained, they need to be properly trained and know what to do without fail in any situation, no matter how high the stakes are. But in perspective, that just might be too much to ask of such young children. More pertinently, it may just be unfair to put such responsibility and pressure on children.

      Maybe the role of ball-boy needs to become a more professional role. Or the rules that rely on their performance need to be reviewed. Either way, it is an unfortunate conundrum, for if nothing else the ball-boy is a nice opportunity for young players to engage with the game and gain the experience of a lifetime.

    7. At the end of the day, one call never makes a game. It never has, and never will. 78 minutes of play preceded the call, and anything contained within that is more conducive to the end result than the ball boy and the rule that wasn’t properly executed. It was a close game, and the timing of the error was unfortunate for the Eels and the game itself. But to pin the result on one solitary call is, as I already said, delusional and ignorant in and of itself.

      The bigger issue here is the rule itself, and the ways people conducted themselves in the aftermath of situation. The rule needs to be reviewed. As does the behaviour and consciences of those happy to berate a child in the name of Football. If anybody wants to be upset at something, direct it at the NRL itself for implementing what is an illogical rule, and putting those kids in a position to be persecuted. This situation could have been easily avoided if the NRL employed any semblance of foresight and a bit more logic.

Play of the game: Perrett Try-saver on David Gower. Incredible effort right on the Tryline to bring Gower down. Especially in what ended up a very tight contest.

 

Stat of the game: 89% completion rate – 33/37. Reflection of the higher standard of execution and mistake-free Football the Bulldogs exhibited.

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