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Bulldogs v Warriors
ANZ Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

The only thing that’s hurt the Bulldogs and the Warriors in their losses this year has been, well, themselves.

While the New Zealand side would be relatively happy with their sixth place after four rounds, the Bulldogs’ slow start has them sitting in 11th and in desperate need of stringing some wins together, or they risk a tough middle section of the season where games suddenly become must-wins.

Recent history between these two sides counts for little, as last year the Bulldogs won both the games, finishing the season just shy of minor premiers, while the Warriors battled through winning just three matches and drawing one from Round 13 onwards. Back in 2008, the Warriors were triumphant in the two match-ups on their way to falling one game short of the grand final, while the Bulldogs recorded just five wins for the entire season to easily finish with the wooden spoon.

This game is a fresh start for their history together and this season. Many Bulldogs fans thought their side had well and truly rid themselves of pre-season rustiness with their 60-14 thumping of the Roosters, but South Sydney showed what 2010 is all about last Monday, dominating up front, taking control early in the game and not allowing Canterbury back in.

The Warriors followed up a strong win – away to Brisbane – with a loss at home to Manly; although many felt the Sea Eagles’ last try was controversial, the Warriors handling errors (17) and missed tackles (45) went a long way to preventing them from crossing the stripe more than the one time they did.

There were similar deficiencies in both these sides’ games last week. You can’t win football games without the ball and completion rates of 63 per cent (Warriors) and 62 per cent (Bulldogs – just 55 per cent in the second half) slaughtered them. Factoring in errors committed (the ’Dogs made 16 in total, 11 in the second half) and penalties conceded (nine each in Round 4; the Warriors are second highest for the season with 31) and it’s easy to see what both clubs will be working on controlling on Saturday. Discipline and ball control will be paramount to gaining advantage.

Also, it will be interesting to see which side manages their growing injury list best. Roster changes haven’t been uncommon for the Bulldogs and Warriors. Brent Tate comes in as the third captain for the Warriors this season, with stand-in Micheal Luck ruled out with a broken finger. Jacob Lillyman is an able replacement, but the changes can start to take a toll. Likewise, the Bulldogs have named Danny Williams as an extra man in case Jarrad Hickey doesn’t recover fully from bruised lungs he suffered against Souths – Hickey would be their fourth forward injury for this season.

Watch out Warriors: What Ben Barba offers the Bulldogs from the bench is a difficult-to-contain utility who pops up anywhere and has the freedom to roam in search of the ball.

Against the Roosters he was everywhere, scoring three tries in his 26 minutes on the field and he provided a spark against the Rabbitohs, coming on in the second half for 33 minutes and recording a try – nearly getting away for another at the end of the match from an intercept, only to knock it on – and a try assist.

The Warriors will need to be sure of their ball control this week, because Barba is always lurking, ready to capitalise on loose balls.

Watch out Bulldogs: Wrapping up the ball in the tackle will be essential as the Bulldogs come up against the team with second highest offloads in the competition (65).

The ’Dogs are already short on troops up front and they’ll need to reduce the threat of Warriors second-phase play if they’re to keep their tackling to a minimum.

Sam Rapira (nine offloads) and Brent Tate (eight) are the biggest threats, but there are dangers elsewhere with the likes of Lance Hohaia and Jerome Ropati able to get the ball away as well.

Where it will be won: The forwards’ dominance of this game will be critical. With similar styles, they like to play the game up the middle of the park before spreading the ball, and control up the centre and around the rucks generates the freedom to attack.
Whoever gets the edge here will give their halves room to move and possibly put the ball in the air, where both the Bulldogs and the Warriors have been found lacking so far this season, defusing just 52 per cent and 57 per cent of bombs respectively.

The history: Played 26: Canterbury 14, Warriors 10, drawn 2. Of the games played at ANZ Stadium, the Bulldogs have won three of the five, and they’ve also won six of their past eight meetings going back to 2005 (the two losses being in 2008).

Last time the two met the Bulldogs were able to send off favourite son Hazem El Masri with a 40-20 final home game win.

There are usually a lot of points between these two, so expect plenty of tries.

Conclusion: There isn’t too much separating these two when analysing their four matches this season. The Warriors have scored just four points more than the ’Dogs, so it will come down to defence and discipline.

Though neither is alone in being guilty of missed tackles so far in 2010, if they can tighten up and make sure of them on Saturday night they’ll have the advantage. Both are coming off losses and will be stinging to get some momentum going early in the season, so expect a high-impact game.

But with the Warriors depleted further by injuries this week the Bulldogs will notch up their third straight win over the visitors.

Match officials: Referees: Jason Robinson & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials: Steve Chiddy & Harry Perenara; Video Referee: Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Fox Sports 2, delayed 9.30pm
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