Bulldogs back to the drawing board
It was billed as a Thursday night blockbuster that had top-four implications, yet only one side showed up.
Des Hasler's Bulldogs will head back to Belmore with their tail between their legs after a horror Thursday night shutout at the hands of North Queensland, completing at just 63 per cent, winning only 40 per cent of possession and failing to break the Cowboys' line once.
The visitors' annual mid-season bonding trip – where they spent five days prior to the game in Cairns and Townsville – probably proved counterproductive as they opened with a complete lack of focus to find themselves down 12-0 in under 10 minutes.
A deflated Hasler said the most frustrating point of the defeat was that his side failed to even give themselves a chance at winning the game after such a slow start.
"It was disappointing, there's no doubt about it, what we produced tonight," Hasler said.
"We'll take this opportunity to take some lessons out of the game, but we were just dreadful with the ball.
"Just too many unforced errors at this level, but particularly against the Cowboys. Halfway through the first half they were 16-of-16 [completions] and we were four-from-seven.
"They're not excuses, it's just poor execution on our part and we paid the price for it."
His night lasted just 45 minutes thanks to a minor hamstring injury, but that was all Johnathan Thurston needed as he piled pressure on pressure to drain the Dogs' energy under a heavy tackle load.
Thurston forced four of the Bulldogs' five first-half goal-line dropouts and capped the first 40 minutes with a delightful combination of skill, vision and evasion.
The visitors were worked into submission by the combination of a heavy tackle load and unrelenting Cowboys line speed in the second half, with James Graham (114 run metres) the only Canterbury forward in triple figures.
"The players will be feeling that. They're really disappointed, really disappointed," Hasler said.
"But we've got to move on and let the frustration go, move on and Friday week can't come soon enough.
"I just think it was the amount of possession they had.
"We made it pretty easy for them, and they're too good a side with an even share of possession; you give them 70 per cent possession and they're very difficult to contain."
The Dogs have eight days to recoup before next Friday's ANZ Stadium clash with St George Illawarra.