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Hasler has winning style

Greg Alexander NRL.com Thu, Sep 27, 2012 - 11:00 AM

Josh Reynolds is the game's best newcomer according to Greg Alexander. Copyright: NRL Photos

I only had to watch Canterbury's opening set against Souths in last weekend's grand final qualifier to predict the Bulldogs will win this Sunday's NRL grand final against Melbourne.

Wow, it was an amazing set of six which displayed exactly how confident Canterbury have become throughout 2012.

Canterbury advanced the ball from their own tryline to within five metres of South Sydney's tryline in just one set.Aside from advancing the ball 95 metres, seven players ran decoys and they passed the ball 19 times. They swept the ball from one side to the other and put themselves in a position for an attacking kick.

Barring big Sam Kasiano, every player in the Bulldogs side received a touch of the footy in that opening set.It was a remarkable start to the match and showed me that the Bulldogs would emerge victorious, which they did.

I thought it also showed categorically why Canterbury is ahead of all their NRL rivals this season.

They have set-plays on the back of set-plays involving so many players.  That is what makes Canterbury so dangerous and so difficult to defend against.

The style of play they engage can only be achieved by having their big men (their front-rowers) playing the role of ball distributors.That allows the Bulldogs halves - Kris Keating and Josh Reynolds - to drift wider and act as the link to their outside backs.

The Bulldogs always seem to have more players on the field than their opposition.

I think Canterbury's great advantage is their ball-playing front-rowers - they can each catch, draw and pass. Simple skill, but one never used to the degree the Dogs have achieved this season.

They have three champions in that area in Kasiano, James Graham and Aiden Tolman. There is also the brilliance of fullback Ben Barba.

Barba has been relatively well contained through the finals series but if he is not busting teams open or supporting big men through the middle, he is putting through amazing grubber kicks, something we saw last weekend for a try to winger Jonathan Wright.

You just can't seem to keep him out of the game. Frank Pritchard and Greg Eastwood also deserve praise in the second-row. They are both big, tackle-busting New Zealanders.

They can also rock you in defence and jolt the ball free from an opponent. Pritchard and Eastwood also have the footwork, and the ability to offload, to worry any defence. Eastwood played the game of his life against the Bunnies.

I also want to discuss in-form centres Josh Morris and Krisnan Inu. Morris plays left side, Inu on the right.

Morris' speed and agility - and his ability to break a tackle - makes him one of the best ball-runners in the NRL. Inu has proven a masterful mid-season buy for coach Des Hasler.

I thought he was just about best on ground against the Rabbitohs. Boy, hasn't he come a long way since earlier this year when he was playing NSW Cup with the Auckland Vulcans.

Inu is a genuine match-winner.

Defensively, Canterbury has developed a mental toughness and resolve that wins them games. Their defensive record this year has alone won teams competitions in the past.

Skipper Michael Ennis has been outstanding in defence over the back-end of the season. Ennis, aside from being clever out of dummy-half, has really locked up the middle of the Bulldogs ruck.

I have enjoyed every minute of watching Canterbury through the 2012 season. They have been brilliant to watch for a side some didn't think would even make the finals.

Remember, Hasler wasn't even supposed to be at Belmore this year. He was still under contract to Manly.

If Hasler can secure this year's title, his second in succession, I reckon it will go down as one of the great coaching achievements our great game has seen.

Canterbury's attack coupled with a stout defence - and input from the master Hasler - tells me the Dogs will emerge victorious in what should be one of the all-time great grand finals.