Bulldogs v Broncos: Five Key Points
With each side fielding four players backing up from Wednesday night's Holden State of Origin decider, it was ladder leaders Brisbane who showed how it's done, grafting a scrappy win over Canterbury. Here are five key points from their 16-8 victory.
Broncos happy to play scrappy
Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett wasn't overly enthused by the game management or kicking of halves pairing Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford, but they did better than their Bulldogs opponents and in the end it was enough.
"They did [manage the game well] but it was kind of a scrappy game in some ways too," Bennett said.
"They weren't as complete as they have been. I thought our last seven or eight minutes was our worst of our halves but outside that they got the job done."
Of Hunt's kicking game, which yielded 349 metres from 17 kicks, Bennett added: "I thought it was mixed tonight, it's got to be better than some things that happened out there tonight."
In all, Bennett was happy with the gutsy nature of the win.
"At times it wasn't pretty but I wasn't worried about that. We stayed at it and stayed at it and never got out of the contest, soaked up their pressure and applied plenty ourselves," he said.
Bulldogs lack polish in red zone
We lost count of the number of times the Bulldogs found Brisbane's back three on the full with kicks for territory, and towards the back end of the game Josh Morris, Josh Jackson and Sam Kasiano all took kicks through a combination of either poor judgement or poor lead-up work from the halves.
"Any time we got field position a couple of times there we gave it away pretty cheaply which was disappointing – against a disciplined Broncos side that's not a good thing," Canterbury coach Des Hasler said.
Back-rower Josh Jackson said he wasn't sure what to put the side's poor last-tackle plays down to.
"Against Melbourne [in Round 16 before the bye] we were awesome and played probably the best game of footy we have all year," he said.
"To back it up with that tonight it's just not good enough. I'm not sure what we have to do, I guess you start with doing the simple things right like Brisbane did tonight, just play field position and play a real grinding game of footy and just be patient when you get your opportunities."
Broncos master art of managing Origin period
From the time the Origin teams were first named, Brisbane – who with six representatives are the most affected team – are undefeated, having now won six straight. Justin Hodges, Corey Parker and Sam Thaiday have all been rested at times but aside from an injury to Josh McGuire – which came during a club game – they seem to have emerged not only unscathed but having improved their ladder standing from third to first.
"I can't remember a recent time, the last time we've done that as a club," Broncos skipper Corey Parker said of the unbeaten Origin run.
"The most pleasing thing is regardless of who's pulled on the jersey there's an expectation of doing a job and they're doing that. Once we get out of this period now we'll be able to bunker down and concentrate on the next eight weeks of the season."
Bulldogs skipper gets through unscathed
It's been a frustrating season for Bulldogs skipper James Graham, with a combination of injury and suspension limiting him to just eight games through 18 rounds.
His last start – on return from injury against the Dragons in Round 13 – was limited to less than 20 minutes before a hamstring injury forced him off for another month.
"He's inspirational for us; he's a great leader, he leads by his actions and by example," Jackson said.
"The rest try to follow him but couldn't get the win tonight which is disappointing."
Graham was understandably frustrated his return was an unsuccessful one.
"We came out after half time and felt confident we could get back into the game," the Englishman said.
"They clicked really well and they didn't give us much field position and part of that's down to the way we played as well, but I think you have to give plenty of credit to Brisbane. They performed really well and limited our opportunities really well."
Ladder takes shape – good for Brisbane, bad for Bulldogs
With this win, Brisbane move to 30 competition points and effectively guarantee they will play finals football. The position of other teams around them means the Dogs won't relinquish their top-eighth standing this round but with a reasonably tricky draw (including away games to Roosters and Broncos as well as a game against defending premiers Souths) remaining, they have some work to do.
For Brisbane, it's all about heading into the finals in good shape and cementing a top-four spot, while for the Dogs it's about getting the four or five wins needed from their last eight regular season games to cement a finals spot then hope to make a charge from – probably – the bottom half of the eight.
"There's some things there we need to improve on, probably like any team," Bennett said.
"The next eight weeks is about getting that right so we can be as bulletproof as we possibly can when the big games start. We want to be there, we're not there yet.
"We want to finish up as high as we can if that's possible and have a game that's going to stand up under a lot of pressure because that's what finals football is about."
Jackson said the last thing the side wants is to rely on points differential at the end of the regular season.
"You don't want to rely on for and against points to get you into the eight; we've got a pretty big couple of weeks ahead of us," Jackson said.
"If we don't get those wins it'll be touch and go for us. We really need to knuckle down and scrape a few together."