Completions key to Bulldogs halves' revival
Two months ago they were the toast of every blue town in New South Wales, but now their team-mates' handling issues have them up fighting to save their season.
Criticism has come from far and wide for Bulldogs and Blues halves Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson, who have failed to kick on from their history-breaking Origin campaign this year.
Coach Des Hasler on Wednesday leapt to the defence of his six and seven who, due to two separate suspensions served by Reynolds, have partnered each other just three times since Blues skipper Paul Gallen lifted the Origin shield in mid-July.
But he was also quick to point out that their struggles have been largely due to their team's horrific completion rate, which has topped 80 per cent just once in their past nine outings.
"They haven't performed, really," Hasler admitted. "'Grub' was suspended for a little bit but you can't read too much into it because we haven't been playing well as a team.
"When you're getting the ball for only 20 sets and 23 sets a game, it's very hard to build anything for any playmaker."
The one time the Bulldogs topped 80 per cent was in their 18-16 escape against Parramatta in Round 23, when they completed 33 from 37 sets.
Before that, you have to go all the way back to Round 18, against this week's opponents the Storm in Melbourne, where they got through 34 of 39 sets.
"It was a good win [against Melbourne]," forward Josh Jackson said. "It was a good, grinding win. And that's what semi-final football is about – those real grinding games. If we can play like we did there, we'll be in with a chance.
"The thing is when you don't hold onto the ball, you have to do a lot more tackling and it takes a lot of energy out of your team, not just particular players.
"So it's a big circle. You drop the ball, you lose energy, and then you make more errors. It's pretty simple, rugby league. Just hold onto the footy."
Jackson said the team would pore over the tape of their last game against Melbourne in the hope they can regain their confidence in time to save their season.
"It's obviously going to be tough [down there], but you do take some confidence out of it. I guess when you look back at games like that, you know you can play grinding, semi-final football. And that's what we need to do."
One other positive for the Bulldogs was the return of co-captain Frank Pritchard against the Titans, who suffered a pectoral injury in Round 6 and hadn't been seen since.
In just 18 minutes, the second-rower made 57 metres from just five carries.
"Probably his experience [is good], and he's got a great carry. And he's an impact player, but we'll see," Hasler said.