Greg Eastwood's minutes heading north
A relentless onslaught from the Bulldogs forward pack proved too much for the Wests Tigers to handle on Sunday afternoon in what turned out to be a fairly easy 36-4 win at ANZ Stadium.
The Canterbury big men outran their opponents 1928-1205 in terms of metres made with David Klemmer (215), James Graham (176) and Sam Kasiano (154) leading the way.
While the big men in the middle received most of the plaudits, the efforts of Greg Eastwood on the left edge cannot be ignored.
Eastwood had only played one game in the back row since Round 20, 2014 but looked comfortable out wide after playing the past 20 matches at lock.
It's a fairly incredible journey given he spent plenty of time at wing, centre and even in the halves in 2006 and 2007 before the 29-year-old bulked-up and was shafted permanently into the pack.
Eastwood said his move to the edge was made easier after having played some minutes there in the Round 9 loss to the Eels.
"I sort of did it a bit against Parramatta," he explained to NRL.com.
"I got chucked out there and had to learn new lines and new plays and how to defend there. I'm enjoying my time out there and I get a few more minutes now so it's good for me.
"I find myself sometimes going in the middle to take a hit up but I get reminded to stay out wide. It can be a bit confusing sometimes but I'm still learning the role."
Eastwood said there wasn't a directive from Bulldogs coach Des Hasler for the forwards to churn out big minutes, but that's exactly what the starting pack did.
Eastwood – who usually comes off after around 20 minutes – played 62 minutes straight against the Tigers, while Klemmer churned out 53 minutes in a rare start at lock.
He said the neck injury to Tigers hooker Robbie Farah – which brought play to a stop for eight-minutes in the first half – played a big part in his ability to stay out there for so long.
"When you play edge, you need those eight interchanges for the middle forwards mainly because it's much tougher there," he said.
"When you play on the edge you're expected to play a few more minutes and I'm happy to do that.
"With Robbie going down – I hope he's alright - it gave us a bit of a breather. I was struggling a bit at that stage but it gave me a bit of a break and a chance to get my wind back.
"It's probably the kick-chase that gets me the most. Just having to be up there for every kick is pretty tiring. You've also got to watch out for the fast guys out wide so it's all about creating those combinations with the centre and the half."
It wasn't just his work with the ball that proved effective; Eastwood's mere presence on the edge drew in mass defenders to create space for tries to Josh Morris and Curtis Rona.
"I guess that's them mostly," he modestly deflected.
"I just try to do my part for the team and if I can create some space for them, then they've got a lot of speed and incredible finishing ability."
It wasn't just Eastwood helping set up tries, with Bulldogs skipper James Graham playing a role in two of his side's scoring plays, including a special bit of skill to send Craig Garvey over in the 70th minute.
Sunday's match doubled as his 100th game in the NRL, with the Englishman putting in a typically workmanlike performance with 176 metres and 37 tackles.
Eastwood said his skipper's influence on the side since joining the blue and whites in 2012 had been one of the cornerstones behind their recent on-field success.
"You always know what you're going to get from James, whether it's his first game or his 100th," the Kiwi international said.
"He brings the same energy and intent every game. It's a big milestone for him. He's probably played 300 games back in the Super League but for him to play 100 games in the NRL is massive for him and his family.
"You bring someone in like that and you know he's going to make a difference. He's captained his country and the plays the game so hard. He's led us to two grand finals and hopefully he can lead us to another one."
The man himself praised the work of his entire forward pack, paying special mention to Klemmer and Josh Jackson; the latter playing the full 80 minutes for the eighth time in 2016.
"I thought David Klemmer really took the challenge well of starting again," Graham said after the game.
"I thought his carries were outstanding and I thought Josh Jackson really came to play today. I thought he was really highly motivated.
For a middle guy, looking to your edge the way he brought that line speed [was huge]. There were a couple of times where he really got off the line and showed a lot of energy and he was a pleasure to play alongside today."