Bulldogs v Broncos
A lot can change in the space of seven days. This time last week, Canterbury were celebrating their third win in a row after coming from 16-0 down against the Warriors and all seemed right in the world again as the 2012 minor premiers continued their resurgence following the return from injury of a horde of key players.
For all intents and purposes, the Bulldogs were back and their 1-5 start to the year was little more than a distant memory. Then they travelled to Newcastle.
Outplayed from the opening whistle, Canterbury looked anything but title contenders as the Knights ran them ragged with their expansive game and speed on the edges. It was also a rare case of the Bulldogs’ big men being completely dominated through the middle. For the first time this year, not one Dogs forward ran for 100 metres or more, while as a team they made just 937 metres to Newcastle’s 1694.
Of course, if coach Des Hasler needs any consoling after that nightmare outing he need look no further than the Knights themselves, who had been on the end of a similar flogging, 44-14, in Canberra a week earlier and proved that form, be it good or bad, is only ever temporary. But one thing we can be sure of is that Hasler’s boys are still a long way off the blistering form that took them all the way to the grand final last season.
Similarly, their opponents this week continue to cause problems for the tipsters.
Struggling against a two-game losing streak and with Justin Hodges, Ben Hannant and Scott Prince all ruled out with injury, they defied the odds last Friday night to demolish an ill-disciplined Gold Coast outfit and restore parity to their season with five wins and five losses.
It’s hard to know what to make of the Broncos. When they fire their forward pack looks as good as any in the league with their big back-rowers and centres able to monster their opponents into submission. But they can also produce performances like the one we saw two weeks ago at Parramatta.
That they managed to down the Titans while missing so many key players was one of the more remarkable efforts of the season – albeit one aided by the extraordinary ill-discipline of their opponents.
It must be frustrating for coach Anthony Griffin trying to pick which Broncos outfit is going to take the field on any given night and no doubt he just wants his troops to find some consistency. Then again, as Hasler will attest right now, that’s the goal of everyone in the NRL.
Bulldogs centre Krisnan Inu’s leg twist on James McManus last week has earned him his second suspension of the season with Tim Lafai coming back into the side in his place.
Brisbane welcome back star centre Hodges from a hamstring strain with Jordan Kahu switching from right to left centre in place of the injured Jack Reed. Notably, Ben Hunt has retained the No.6 jumper despite Scott Prince being available for selection.
Watch Out Bulldogs: The selection of Corey Norman at fullback this season ahead of New Zealand Test custodian Josh Hoffman was controversial at the time but his performances since donning the No.1 jersey have been nothing short of superb. Averaging an impressive 133 metres per game with the ball in hand, he also leads the club for both try assists and line-break assists with seven apiece (more than halves Peter Wallace and Scott Prince combined) and boasts 28 tackle-breaks.
Watch Out Broncos: Brisbane’s left-side defence will need to be wary of when they rush in to smother the Bulldogs’ attack given the success they have had kicking for winger Sam Perrett in 2013. Perrett has scored seven tries for Canterbury this season – the most of any Bulldogs player – with three of them coming from the boot of Josh Reynolds who loves putting it high on that side of the field.
Plays To Watch: The Bulldogs are at their most dangerous when they head left where Josh Reynolds is the key man. Reynolds has a great eye for an opportunity and his selective passing game is as good as it gets – particularly when he puts on one of Hasler’s favourite plays. Standing at first receiver on the left, Reynolds runs to the line with the backline stretched out behind him but rather than go wide he hits the lead runner with a well-timed short ball instead (the Bulldogs use this play on both sides of the field regularly).
The beauty, though, is that Reynolds can go wide instead if the defence reads his intent to go short. Against the Tigers two weeks ago he produced the short ball for Tony Williams to score then adjusted to go wide instead 15 minutes later with a great ball to Tim Lafai for Sam Perrett to cross.
Key Match-Up: Ben Barba v Corey Norman – two men who hold the key to their side’s fortunes firmly in their grasp.
Despite showing glimpses of his best over the past few weeks, Barba is still trying to find the sheer magic that sparked Canterbury’s season last year and there would be no better time than now following last week’s shocking outing in Newcastle.
Norman is similarly vital to Brisbane’s chances with the halves looking to him to ease the playmaking burden.
Where It Will Be Won: Up front, where Brisbane will again be without State of Origin prop Ben Hannant and the Bulldogs will be looking to make a statement after failing to get the job done in the middle against Newcastle last week.
Sam Thaiday returned to the front row in Hannant’s absence last week and filled the void well while Bulldogs forward Aiden Tolman will need a big game if he is to win a maiden Origin call-up for NSW.
The History: Played 42; Broncos 23, Bulldogs 18, drawn 1. There is very little between these two sides over the years with Canterbury winning five of the past nine clashes. The ledger at ANZ Stadium is shared five games apiece.
Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Henry Perenara; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Jeff Younis; Video Referees – Luke Phillips & Justin Morgan.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Bulldogs v Broncos clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7:30pm.
The Way We See It: This one could be an NRL classic with both sides desperate to keep touch with the top eight. The Bulldogs will be desperate to make amends for last week’s effort and being back on home soil won’t hurt their chances. Brisbane, on the other hand, will be looking to build on last week’s win although they are still missing a number of players through injury with Hodges, Hannant, Reed and Stagg among those sidelined. We can see the Bulldogs sneaking home with a much-improved effort. Bulldogs by six points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats.