Eels v Bulldogs: Five Key Points
A scrappy affair saw the Bulldogs overcome a poor first half starved of ball to race away with a 28-4 Telstra Premiership win over an injury-hit Eels outfit. Here are five talking points from the match.
Bulldogs halves merry-go-round continues
It's a headache most NRL coaches would welcome; two representative halves and a superstar of the future all pressing each other for two starting spots. Halfback Trent Hodkinson got a one-game rest last week after a tough Origin campaign. Moses Mbye had one of his poorer games – a rare event in a breakout year for the youngster – and having played every game to date this season was rotated out of the Eels game with Hodkinson back.
The future of the puzzle did become clearer recently with news Hodkinson will join Newcastle next year but with a finals berth on offer Hasler also has this year to work out how to use his three playmakers.
"It was just a bit of wear and tear with Moses," Hasler said of the decision to leave the 21-year-old out.
"We probably have to be careful with young players we're bringing through. He's had a couple of big weeks as well.
"It's a situation that we can afford to do it, we can afford to manage him and make sure we protect him going forward but he'll certainly apply pressure."
Hasler didn't appear rapt with the efforts of his first choice halves after the scrappy win.
"They were okay tonight I thought, they sort of steered us around," he said.
"The first half we were sort of spluttering a bit, we just couldn't get on to any roll, we were probably coming up with some unforced errors."
Deja vu as injury cruels Eels
It was almost a flashback to Round 2 for Eels coach Brad Arthur. On that night he lost try-scoring ace Semi Radradra to a knee injury at halftime, half Chris Sandow to an ankle injury shortly after, Beau Champion for the season and other players were hobbled. The reshuffle ruined the Eels' structures and they couldn't keep pace.
On Friday they lost Corey Norman after 60 minutes to a knee injury that is expected to keep him out for 4-6 weeks pending scans and Danny Wicks to a possible season-ending shoulder injury.
While it would be drawing a long bow to suggest the Eels would have won either game even without the injuries, the long term impacts of each match has been huge in the context of their season.
"There's still seven games to go but we got a few injuries out of it which might hurt," a dejected Arthur said of his side's fading finals hopes.
For-and-against a funny game
The 24-point differential boost to the Bulldogs was critical because it moves them into positives in terms of for-and-against – although they still trail the other three sides they are currently level with on 22 competition points. It goes to show how much every try counts given how close the Telstra Premiership is.
It's clearly something the Bulldogs had spoken about ahead of the game, with centre Josh Morris quick to praise the runaway second half for improving his club's record.
"We're ahead on our for-and-against now, that's a positive heading into these later rounds," Morris told NRL.com after the game.
"We're in the positives now and it can come down to a couple of points as we've seen in previous years so that's a big thing for us now, we've got to try and tighten up our defence and make sure we're scoring points as well."
Further highlighting the closeness of the competition and importance of differential: the Eels copped a 24-point hit to theirs and still managed to climb one rung on the ladder on the night as the Panthers – level with the Eels on 18 points – copped a 52-10 hiding in Melbourne to drop just below Parramatta.
Half-time speech does the trick for Des
Canterbury were poor in the first half and while there were plenty of missed opportunities in the second, the intent was there to run away with a 24-0 second stanza.
A few home truths at half-time from Bulldogs coach Des Hasler seemed to do the trick, with his side racking up three tries in the 15 minutes after half time.
"In that first half, like last week against the Broncos we earned field position but we just didn't stay there, we were a bit too rushed, some of the execution, coming up with some unforced errors," Hasler said.
"Possession was really heavily favoured towards Parramatta," he noted of the 60-40 possession split against his side in the first half.
"We spoke about a few things at half-time, addressed a few things at half-time, you've got to be happy with the 24 point to nil second half."
Eels start to lose the plot in defence
Four tries to nil in the second half against the Eels could easily have been eight tries had Canterbury made some better decisions and executed a few plays better.
The line breaks were 6-0 against the Eels in the second stanza and some of the defensive reads were below NRL level.
Josh Jackson strolled through some soft defence twice, scoring one try as a result, and Brett Morris ran over the top of Chris Sandow on a kick return on the way to helping himself to a 60-metre try.
Soon enough players were rushing up out of the line trying to shut plays down and in the process making things worse.
"Our composure wasn't great, it got the better of us," Arthur said.
"A couple of those tries they scored, blokes coming out of the line trying to solve them on their own coming out of the line, in attack we just got a little bit flustered at times. We just lacked a bit of composure."