The Bulldogs did plenty of things right on Friday evening, dusting a competitive but ultimately out-gunned North Queensland before a sparse crowd at ANZ Stadium.
The visitors miss Matthew Bowen like the tabloids will miss the King of Pop. Johnathan Thurston drives his team around beautifully and runs with menace when required. But his men outside are solid without being spectacular. They lack the Bowen X-factor. And Luke O’Donnell’s hardness wouldn’t hurt either.
The Bulldogs again showed what a very, very good side they are. Kevin Moore has each player performing to the best of his ability. They don’t make mistakes, their forwards are tough, their backs are fast and light on their feet, and they look like they’re having fun. They’ll take some beating come September.
The Game Swung When… The Bulldogs went to halftime up 12-0 following tries to Brett Morris and Bryson Goodwin but the Cowboys had their opportunities and with a bit of luck the score could’ve been closer.
But then, in the 44th minute, the Bulldogs embarked on a brilliant raid down the left; Morris, Goodwin and Millard showed quick hands and flying feet before the move was finished by a scything Johnathan Thurston tackle around the boot straps of Luke Patten. But from the ensuing play the ball was shifted right and hammered up through the meat of the Cows’ defence before Greg Eastwood crashed over adjacent to the posts. When Hazel El Masri converted it was 18-nil and the Cowboys were chasing like dish-lickers.
Five minutes later Cows rake Anthony Watts scored a benefit-of-the-doubt try he looked doubtful he had scored, but further tries to Goodwin and Patten sealed the deal for the ’Dogs.
Who Was Hot… The Bulldogs had contributors all over the park.
Michael Ennis provided slick service out of dummy-half and made 30 tackles. Ben Roberts continued his strong form of late with three line breaks and a tackle assist. And Jarryd Hickey carted the pill into the meat of the Cows’ defence (the beef?) with great force.
Lock David Stagg powered through 42 tackles, Brett Kimmorley kicked and passed well and Daryl Millard did a lot of work out wide – 30 tackles for a centre is a fair few.
Further out wide Goodwin scored two tries to make it 15 for the season (a healthy one per game) while Hazem El Masri kicked five from five from everywhere, as he does with such magnificent consistency.
The Cows were well served by Thurston who displayed his undoubted class but still couldn’t feed through a pass or lay on a step or dummy and jink, such was the staunchness of the Bulldogs’ defence.
Prop Shane Tronc made 30 tackles and 20 runs for 158 metres, centre Willie Tonga made 18 runs for 130 metres and fullback Ty Williams made 15 runs for 131 metres.
Who Was Not… Cowboys outside backs Ty Williams, John Williams Michael Bani and Tonga all tried hard, and are good players, but they’re definitely better players with Matthew Bowen giving them options and chances to shine.
In the first 20 minutes the Cowboys had several opportunities to score but couldn’t convert. They lack strike-power. They’re an extra playmaker or two short; they need someone to take the attacking responsibility from Thurston, who shines in Origin games beside D. Lockyer and C. Smith.
In the 55th minute, Cows centre Ben Harris showed Goodwin the sideline and Goodwin took it, ran away and scored. Better to have tackled him. Neil Henry thought so too and hooked Harris.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Patten butchered the Bulldogs’ first try worse than an abattoir worker who’d just been sacked. All he had to was fall on the ball. That is not difficult. Yet a knock-on resulted. If you had $20 on him for first try-scorer you would feel bad.
Morris scored the ’Dogs’ first try following a fine bust by Roberts which resulted in his team going 90 metres to score. They can run, these Doggies.
And where most of the alleged crowd of 13,461 were watching the game (in the bar?) is hard to fathom, ANZ looked like a giant wok scattered with left-over fried rice.
Bad Boys… None.
Refs Watch… In the 26th minute John Williams flew through the air going for the ball and took out Goodwin (who caught the ball) in spectacular fashion. Jarred Maxwell ruled it an unfair challenge, presumably because it looked spectacular. Spectators who watched the telecast heard Maxwell say: “I know he was going for the ball,” in reaction to Thurston’s query. And if this was the case then there should be no penalty, despite “his timing not being correct”. If the bloke is going for the ball, he’s going for the ball – which means it’s game on, no?
The video referees were also busy, awarding tries, not awarding them, giving benefits of the doubt on some, sending it back to the ref for his call on others. Bill Harrigan’s benefit-of-the-doubt call for Anthony Watts’s try was in massive doubt, most notably from the try-scorer himself given he appeared to be a foot short of the line.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… Daryl Millard (Bulldogs): Made 30 tackles, employed soft hands and plenty of menace down the left – he’s got a fine combination with Morris and Goodwin; 2 points – Ben Roberts (Bulldogs): Strongly built with a step and a lick of pace – in hot form; 1 point – Bryson Goodwin (Bulldogs): Good under the high ball, two tries and solid defence.
Bulldogs 30 (B Goodwin 2, J Morris, G Eastwood, L Patten tries; H El Masri 5 goals) def Cowboys 18 (A Watts, A Payne, J Williams tries; J Thurston 3 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 13,461.