Wasteful 'Dogs rue missed chances
The cavalry can't come soon enough for Canterbury coach Des Hasler, who lamented the absence of key players and a distinct lack of polish in the Bulldogs 20-12 loss to the Cowboys at ANZ Stadium.
While fullback Sam Perrett made a welcome early return from a knee injury at fullback, Hasler's reshuffled starting line-up – which saw five-eighth Moses Mbye slotting into the centres for late withdrawal Josh Morris and 120-kilogram back-rower Tony Williams switch into the halves again – failed to put the Cowboys away despite enjoying the lion's share of possession, territory and an 8-4 penalty count.
New South Wales Origin pivot Josh Reynolds will be back on board for the Bulldogs' blockbuster Friday night clash with the Panthers having served the final week of his three-game suspension, while Morris (knee) and props David Klemmer (ankle) and Aiden Tolman (hamstring) are considered strong chances to line-up for the Round 21 fixture.
Against the Cowboys however Hasler admitted his side had plenty of chances to overcome a 12-6 half-time deficit.
"I thought we had plenty of opportunities but we just didn't execute well enough, particularly at the start of the second half," Hasler said.
"I thought we were pretty good in the second half, we had about five ‘good ball’ opportunities when we got a couple of errors from the Cowboys but we only completed one of those five opportunities.
"Obviously we need some players back in key positions and they should start coming back in the next few weeks.
"But when you’re presented with those opportunities in good field position you’ve got to convert them."
The defeat to North Queensland, just their second in their past eight clashes with the Cowboys and their first at ANZ Stadium against the visitors since 2006, comes on the back of a worrying second-half slump against the Tigers last week, in which the black-and-golds ran up 30 unanswered points in 40 minutes.
As was the case in the last-start loss, skipper Michael Ennis conceded his side had failed to cope with the shifts in momentum against the Cowboys, highlighting the 18th-minute stoppage that saw Kangaroos prop James Tamou leave the field after an awkward collision with teammate Ashton Sims, as crucial.
"We had chances, we just didn't handle the momentum swings," Ennis said.
"We spoke about starting well and I thought we did that and then there was a period there where [there were] a couple of video ref decisions and that unfortunate injury to James Tamou just slowed the game and we just fell off the pace there for a bit.
"We floated in and out, that's probably the most disappointing thing.
"We worked hard all week on getting that 80-minute performance, but we didn't put it out there tonight."