ON the basis of this match, Bulldogs fans may well be thinking their team are serious contenders for the title. Parramatta supporters, meanwhile, will be contemplating the spoon.
Some defensive lapses notwithstanding, the ’Dogs were strong across the park. New halfback Brett Kimmorley will always have his detractors. But working with gifted players who need only a little direction, the nuggetty veteran is palpably enjoying himself.
Last year’s wooden-spooners stacked on nine tries, and Parramatta were mostly helpless trying to contain them. Everything worked. A second-man play, a blindside rush, a short pass, an angled run… try time.
England opener Geoff Boycott used to say poor bowling was “buffet time” for batsmen. Well, the Eels’ leaky defence was buffet time for the ’Dogs. It was a case of help yourself. And the likes of Luke Patten, Josh Morris and Ben Roberts duly filled their plates.
Just six weeks in, the rest of the Eels’ season is stretching out like a prison term. This was not the performance of a united, committed and desperate team. And from the point of view it being their second outing without Brett Finch, the game was a disaster. While the snowy-haired Kris Keating looked dangerous at times, no-one stepped up to take charge.
Some sets of six were a mess. Canterbury led from the fourth minute, yet Kimmorley never shut up. Parramatta are packed with talent, but they now lack a general, flawed or otherwise.
The strange thing was, despite the lopsided score, the ’Dogs looked ripe for the taking late in the first half, when the Eels had recovered from a terrible start to trail by just six points. But Daniel Anderson’s men weren’t able to exploit what looked at times like a tired opposition. They’d grab a try, then give it straight back. And then another. And another. Only a late miss with the boot by Hazem El Masri stopped the Bulldogs from racking up 50. Never down for long, the Bulldogs are back. For their western neighbours, these are dark days.
The Game Swung When… You could say it was while fans were still settling in their seats – the ’Dogs were up by 12 after nine minutes – or else point to Joel Reddy’s blunder right after half-time. The winger spilled the ball on his line trying to clean up a kick, and the ’Dogs’ Gary Warburton crossed in the ensuing set of six, reopening his side’s lead to 10 points.
Then Krisnan Inu’s restart went dead on the full, and some quick work by Roberts had the ’Dogs in again. Right then, it was game over.
Who Was Hot… Josh Morris was electric scoring the first two tries, then limped off to spend the rest of the afternoon resplendent in a suit. That left the rest of the backline to shine.
Roberts looked sharp in everything he did, as did Patten. Kimmorley took the ball to the line like a good halfback, and talked up his Origin credentials afterward. Were the men who matter listening? Probably not.
Who Was Not… Luke Burt’s tackling stats of one made, five missed don’t look good, but this romp wasn’t his fault. Listless defence across the park made the fullback’s afternoon an ordeal.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… While it will be Daniel Anderson having nightmares this week about his team’s defence, it was the ’Dogs who let in the softest try of the day, Weller Hauraki scoring late in the first half from a gap in centre-field wide enough for a London bus.
And who would have backed Kimmorley’s 32-year-old legs to carry him 80 metres, all the way to the line, after a charge-down late in the match?
Injuries… Alas, Bulldogs centre Josh Morris is gone for the season with a foot ligament injury.
Bad Boys… The snooker score gives it away that this wasn’t the year’s most physical encounter. However, tempers flared in the first half when a frustrated Burt pushed El Masri toward some fencing, and the newly-bald winger reacted by throwing the pill in Burt’s direction.
Seeking punitive action, El Masri was told by a referee that Burt hadn’t actually done anything illegal, meaning the danger of sending players hurtling into fencing isn’t actually spelt out in the rules book. Neither, presumably, is carrying an M-16 under your jersey. But does that mean you can do it?
Refs Watch… The El Masri try that buried the Eels came from a quick 20-metre restart that referees Gavin Badger and Tony De Las Heras allowed even though it’s highly doubtful that all match officials were in position. This is a grey area that needs to be clarified.
NRL Best & Fairest… 3 points – Ben Hannant (Bulldogs): Led the way with 13 runs for 106 metres, while easily topping the tackle count with 40; 2 points – Ben Roberts (Bulldogs): Smart, athletic showing that included 9 runs for 120 metres; 1 point – Fuifui Moimoi (Eels): Ran with unceasing gusto in a badly beaten team, acquiring 144 metres.
Bulldogs 48 (J Morris 2, Luke Patten 2, H El Masri, B Goodwin, B Kimmorley, M Hodgson, G Warburton tries; El Masri 6 goals) def Eels 18 (W Hauraki 2, J Hayne tries; L Burt 3 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 18, 233.