THEY boast two of the most exciting young halves in the 2011 NRL Telstra Premiership and it is the expansive style of football that Kris Keating and Trent Hodkinson have brought to the club that is behind Canterbury’s early resurgence this season.
Figures provided exclusively to NRL.com by NRL Stats reveal the Bulldogs have reinvented themselves in 2011 – with Keating and Hodkinson already slashing their team’s combined runs per game to just 6.5 compared to the whopping 13.7 from the side’s various playmakers in 2010.
The result has been a significant shift in Canterbury’s attacking focus, with outside backs Jamal Idris, Bryson Goodwin, Steve Turner and Ben Barba terrorising opponents in wins over Wests Tigers and South Sydney to start the year.
Rather than taking on the line, Keating and Hodkinson are getting it wide, and early. Consequently strike weapon Idris is averaging 5.3 touches more per game compared to last season (19.7 up from 14) and Goodwin an extra 5.5, while Barba has contributed an average 24 touches and 104 metres since finding a home at fullback.
And according to Keating – who joined the Bulldogs from Parramatta in the off-season – the newfound approach is no coincidence.
“We’ve got so much strike power out wide with guys like Jamal and Josh Morris, I think it’s a big thing for us to try and get them some early ball,” Keating told NRL.com. “They are great players one on one.
“It’s a style of football that the coaching staff has got us playing at the moment. We trained for that during the pre-season and worked on a few little things.
“We don’t want to starve those guys of the football.”
The Keating-Hodkinson pairing was touted as a new beginning for a Canterbury side that looked tired and bereft of ideas at times last year. Already their arrivals are paying dividends.
Keating in particular has been a standout over the first two weeks of the season. After struggling to cement a spot at Parramatta, he agrees the Bulldogs’ style better suits his game.
“I’m loving it,” he said. “It’s fairly different. I really wanted to cement that No.6 spot at the ’Dogs and now that I’ve got my opportunity I want to hold it down for the rest of the year.
“I’m definitely enjoying my footy a lot more and I think that is showing out on the field – I’m a lot more energetic and excited about being out there with all the boys.
“Every club does things differently but I’ve been working with ‘Noddy’ (Kimmorley) since I arrived and my passing and kicking game has improved a fair bit as a result.”
The Bulldogs pulled off a huge coup when they snared the highly rated Hodkinson from under Manly’s nose this season – but truth be told it was just one half of a well-orchestrated plan to reunite he and Keating. The playmaking pair have been good mates since first playing together for Cabramatta Cobras under-15s and even won an SG Ball title together at Parramatta. They also made their representative debuts together for City Origin in 2010, but it is at the Bulldogs that their partnership truly looks set to flourish.
“Knowing that he is there – we get along pretty well, so it’s made it a lot easier on the training paddock and on the field to communicate with each other,” Keating said of Hodkinson.
“And we’ve started pretty good. We’ve still got a few things to work on but two from two to start with is a positive for the side.”
Keating said he was looking forward to the pair matching wits with Sydney Roosters’ and likely NSW halves pairing Todd Carney and Mitchell Pearce this Sunday in his first taste of one of the NRL’s great grudge matches.
“They got to the grand final last year so it’s another challenge for myself and Trent,” he said. “We’ll just work hard at training this week and hopefully we can keep our roll going.”