Bulldogs v Wests Tigers Preview

Bulldogs v Wests Tigers
ANZ Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

IF there’s been one disappointment in the competition so far, it’s been the form of the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. While the blue and whites have been decimated by injury at various stages of the season, the nucleus of their very successful 2009 team has been underperforming in 2010. The ’Dogs have chalked up only three wins in the past 13 rounds, and are sitting at 13th on the ladder alongside the Cowboys and the Sharks.

Their opponents the Wests Tigers have had some memorable games this season – some for the right reasons, like their Round 12 thrashing of the Warriors, and some for the wrong reasons, like their 50-10 loss to South Sydney. Despite their up-and-down form, the Tigers are coming off the back of successive wins and a newfound confidence. With a woeful performance by the Bulldogs in their first half against the Storm last week, this game could toss up a very interesting result.

Watch out Bulldogs:
The Tigers can, and will, score from anywhere. They have totalled 48 line-breaks in 11 games, making them dangerous to a rushing defence. (Benji Marshall has been the orchestrator of nine of those line-breaks and made five himself, and has freakishly broken out of 50 tackles so far this season.)

The Bulldogs are one of the worst teams in the competition at stopping offloads, tallying 265 ineffective tackles, which if continued is sure to give the Tigers plenty of room to move.

Also, the ’Dogs have contributed nine poor chases in their games so far, which also hints that if the Tigers can get the ball out to a speedster like Beau Ryan or Lote Tuqiri early in a kick-return set, the Bulldogs will be made to pay.

While the Bulldogs have surprisingly only conceded 50 penalties – the lowest number in the competition – they have a tendency to concede them late in the tackle count. They need to watch that.

If the Tigers can build pressure through repeat sets, you can bet it’s going to go through the hands – neither Marshall or Robbie Farah are big kickers close to the line, with only five of their tries this season coming off the boots of these two playmakers. With susceptible defence on both edges of the field, Tuqiri and Daniel Fitzenhry on the wings could be in for a productive night.

Watch out Wests Tigers:
It will come as a surprise to most Bulldogs fans to learn their team’s attacking statistics are actually quite good. The ’Dogs have made 57 line-breaks and scored 42 tries in 2010; 13 of these tries have resulted from kicks – the third highest return in the competition – which makes them potent when in an attacking field position. Expect Brett Kimmorley to pepper the Tigers’ defence with grubbers and cross-field bombs, with the Bulldogs scoring half their tries in the opposition’s 0-10 metre zone.

Although targeting Benji Marshall can sometimes lead to great pain for an opposition, he is the most likely Wests Tiger to be found out in defence, missing 30 and making 15 ineffective tackles so far this season.

If there are any lazy defenders around the middle of the park, Michael Ennis and new recruit Joel Romelo are fast enough from dummy-half to split the opposition defence and create chances.

Adding to this are the great figures of the Bulldogs backline – while they have found it hard to find the tryline this year Jamal Idris, Steve Turner, Bryson Goodwin and Josh Morris have made 23 line-breaks between them. The law of averages says they have to make it over the stripe at some point!

Where it will be won:
It’s trite, but up the middle. Field position is everything, and as the Bulldogs have learned in their past few losses, you can’t win a match when you’re trapped in your own half.

With their two favoured props in Ben Hannant and Michael Hodgson starting for the ’Dogs, they may have more impact in cracking the Tigers defensively. But it’s not enough to just try to keep the Tigers in their territory – one sidestep is often all it takes for a try. The Bulldogs’ defence has been sloppy on occasion, and they just can’t afford that against this quality attacking team.

The history:
Played 19; Bulldogs 11, Wests Tigers 8. Both teams have ANZ Stadium as a stamping ground, which makes the head-to-head record at the ground fairly even, the Bulldogs winning five and the Tigers four. The Bulldogs were last-start winners at ANZ in 2009.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) for both sides, their biggest wins and losses against each other have come at ANZ – The Bulldogs defeating the Tigers by 35 points in 2006, and the Tigers beating the Bulldogs by 52 points in 2005.

Conclusion:
If you were picking on form, the Tigers would be clear favourites. Although their season has been patchy at best, they still have two wins in a row under their belt, and any team that puts 50 on the opposition has got to win some favour.

The Tigers can be absolutely lethal if they’re in the right mood – and the Bulldogs have to be weary about allowing them to get too far in front, unless they want to be looking at a cricket score.

However, what makes this match unpredictable is that the Bulldogs are suddenly faced with the proposition of “must-win” games. Although their execution has been off, their stats haven’t been too far from the mark, and every Bulldogs fan is waiting for the team to click. Whether they do or not is another matter – but with time running out, expect them to lift.

Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Alan Shortall; Sideline officials – Russell Turner & Adam Devcich; Video referee – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7.30pm (NSW & Qld).