Bulldogs v Storm: Five key points
The Bulldogs returned to their spiritual home of Belmore for the first time in 17 years. The fans repaid them by selling out the match and the players repaid them in turn with a powerful 80-minute performance against the Storm. Here are five of the talking points from the 20-4 win.
Pulsating Belmore a great advertisement for suburban footy
We won't delve into all the commercial reasons why all footy can't be played at suburban grounds, instead for now let's just focus on what was a fantastic spectacle. The roar from the Terry Lamb Hill when fan favourite David Klemmer was rampaging kick-off returns through the Storm defence defied the 16,764 crowd figure.
"I've got to give a huge rap to the fans that came out and really got behind the football team," Bulldogs coach Des Hasler said.
"I think it's a reflection also of all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes with [CEO] Raelene [Castle] and her team that worked long and hard in the lead-up and the work they did.
"To see 16 or 17 thousand turn up here like they did and provide a great atmosphere... both teams would have enjoyed playing in that and the rousing reception they got coming onto the field. As far as the community is concerned it's been a good initiative."
Bulldogs skipper Aiden Tolman said it was a great atmosphere.
"There's not too many games you get to run out in front of 16,500 people and it sounds like 40 [thousand]," Tolman said.
"It's one of those games – there's only a few games in your career you can run out and it's something really special. It's our spiritual home, it's where we belong. The players that have played here over the years, I think it was something really special tonight."
Dogs start like a house on fire
The home side raced out of the blocks in both halves and that's where the game was won and lost. Three tries in 13 minutes to start the game and some punishing defence at the start of the second, which created the pressure for their fourth try, made all the difference – especially considering the way the Storm were eventually able to get back in the grind in the back end of both halves.
Leading the way was Klemmer, who racked up a massive 139 metres from 10 charges in his first 25 minute stint and finished with 230 metres from 19.
Bulldogs halfback Trent Hodkinson said the starts to both halves had been spoken about in the lead-up to the game.
"We knew we had to start well and complete and get in that grind mentality," Hodkinson said.
"We did in that first half. We'd been struggling a little bit just after half-time in that 10 or 15 minute period so we really wanted to improve that tonight and we did."
Bulldogs skipper Aiden Tolman admitted the side had been "patchy" so far in 2015 but the Belmore win was the best performance of the year so far.
Hasler added the team had tried to play the type of football that has made Melbourne so successful.
"I think we had to [start well] because Melbourne have been in good form, we kind of tried to employ what Melbourne are good at and I think getting away to a good start and playing good field position helped a lot."
Storm feeling absence of some big names
It's no secret Storm coach Craig Bellamy's job would be easier if superstars Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk were available. While his halfback should return after Origin his fullback is gone for the year and it accentuated the inexperience in the backline overall.
"It's been hard; we know we have to change our attack a little bit, especially not having Billy and Cooper there, with the different players with different strengths there," Bellamy said.
"Just having time to do it has been a bit of an issue for us. I thought we were a little bit better with the footy tonight than we were last week but there's still a lot of improvement there but having said that the Bulldogs defended really well.
"It's not an easy thing when you take two prominent ball players – key position players – out of your team but having said that, we know those other young kids are talented kids. We just have to try and build their confidence, try and get the right plays for them that suit them."
Another big Dog stands up
Third-gamer Shaun Lane, much like now-Origin prop David Klemmer before him, has both a frame and a confidence that defies his age.
At six and a half feet in the old language, or a tick under two metres, and 110 kilograms, Lane is already huge for a back-rower at just 20 years of age.
He made his mark on the game early, making a home on the right edge and charging onto a Trent Hodkinson pass to earn his side's second try in just the sixth minute of play. He was heavily involved in another right-side play shortly after that ended in winger Sam Perrett crossing for the team's third in the 13th minute.
"He's come up through the juniors, played under-20s last year, obviously his opportunity has come about," Hasler said.
"It's timely because Tony Williams won't be back the rest of this year and he's made the most of his opportunity and he performed really well out there tonight and it's a great honour for the boy.
"Earning his first starting cap in his third game in the absence of suspended Josh Jackson, Lane is making the most of the opportunities handed to him by a season-ending injury to Tony Williams."
Storm youngsters cop a football lesson
It was a tough night at the office for Storm players across the park but Bellamy said the less experienced players would benefit from a tough night in front of a baying parochial home crowd and getting swamped by a ruthless football side like the Bulldogs.
"Some of our young outside backs, while it wasn't happy experience for them tonight I think it's a valuable experience and like I say there's a couple there that haven't played much footy," Bellamy said.
"Richie [Kennar]'s played about three or four games, Hymel [Hunt]'s played two, [Cameron] Munster's played about eight.
"To play in front of those guys and that crowd tonight was a good experience for them. We knew what the crowd was going to be like without a doubt, but having said that, to convince them of just going out there and doing their job and not noticing them is another thing."