Bulldogs v Wests Tigers
Hazem El Masri's last game turned into a training run for the Bulldogs as they despatched the out-classed Warriors at an extremely well-attended ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
Though they lost in-form playmaker Brett Kimmorley with a cheek fracture, the 'Dogs had more than enough firepower to run over a fairly ordinary Warriors outfit. Justified outright premiership favourites – even if Kimmorley can't play for a month.
The Warriors? They were fairly ordinary. They did outscore the 'Dogs 16-12 in the second half. It was just a pity they were outscored 28-4 in the first. Time for a new broom in New Zealand.
The Game Swung When… After Josh Morris completed a hat-trick of tries in the seven minutes leading to half time – and a certain Lebanon-born goal-kicker converted all three – the Bulldogs were up 28-4 and more likely to be headed by Christiano Ronaldo.
In the 12th minute Kimmorley suffered his cheekbone injury in a nasty head clash, and the Bulldogs could've been forgiven for going a little rudder-less. But five-eighth Ben Roberts and lock David Stagg filled the breach superbly, providing excellent service to their backs and more than adequate kicking games.
The Warriors didn't give up and scored three nice second-half tries. But it was all far too little, far too late.
Who Was Hot… Morris continued on his happy try-scoring ways with a hat-trick, Roberts laid on two try assists and broke seven tackles, while Luke Patten was typically evasive at fullback.
In the unaccustomed role of extra playmaker, Stagg had a fine game, receiving the ball 23 times, running it 13 times and coming up with 31 tackles. He's been a great buy for them.
Equally astute purchases and performers in this match were Michael Ennis (16 runs, 116 metres and two try assists) and Greg Eastwood (three tackle breaks, three offloads and a try).
And, of course, the great Hazem El Masri, the greatest goal-kicker the game has ever seen, finished with a perfect eight from eight. We'll miss him.
The Warriors were best served by big winger Manu Vatuvei who scored two tries and looked a handful down the left, Ukuma Ta'ai who ran the ball 16 times for 130 metres, broke five tackles and made 25, and workhorse lock Michael Luck who made 38 tackles and offloaded twice.
Who Was Not... These Warriors lack a champion no.7. Stacey Jones? Was: great. Now: too old. And when he finally goes back inside the retirement home, unless the Warriors turn up another Stacey from the ranks of South Auckland club footy – or pinch someone from the All Blacks – it's hard to see how they'll improve on 12th in season 2010. They need to open the chequebook and buy J Thurston.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Prop Jarrad Hickey avoided a ‘nude run’ when he touched down for the first time this season in the 78th minute. But with El Masri looming and bellowing out his name, the big fellow might have more to live down than a 10-second burst of nudity.
Bad Boys… None.
Refs Watch… Good game from refs Gavin Badger and Alan Shortall.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Ben Roberts (Bulldogs): Drove the show when Kimmorley went off with aplomb; 2 points – David Stagg (Bulldogs): Fine running, passing, kicking and tackling; 1 point – Josh Morris (Bulldogs): Ran like a hairy goat.
Bulldogs 40 (J Morris 3, D Stagg, G Eastwood, J Hickey tries; H El Masri 8 goals) def Warriors 20 (M Vatuvei 2, S Rapira 2 tries; S Jones 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 41,835.