Bulldogs out for Cowboys get-square
With a top four spot on the line, Canterbury players will be out for redemption when they host the Cowboys in their own Belmore backyard this Thursday night – just five weeks after losing 36-0 to a red-hot Cowboys up in Townsville.
The Dogs scraped three straight wins together after that game before another poor effort in Queensland, this time a second half fade-out in a spiteful 20-10 loss to the Broncos at Suncorp – a result which keeps the Broncos and Cowboys in the hunt to push the Dogs out of the top four by the end of the regular season.
Centre Josh Morris said he'd be using the Round 20 result as motivation this Thursday.
"You forget about the performance that night but you don't forget about the score-line," Morris said.
"It was a tough loss to take and not scoring any points either really hurt. Personally myself, it takes me a couple of years to forget about losses like that and I'll certainly be using it as motivation on Thursday."
Prop Aiden Tolman said the second half last week was comparable to the effort against the Cowboys and was hoping for a marked improvement in discipline this week.
"A month ago we played them up there and it was the same performance we did in the second half against the Broncos, lost completion, possession wasn't great and they put 36 points on us or something like that and that's what the good teams do," Tolman said.
"If we're going into the finals it's good practice for us and we need to make sure we perform well."
Morris said both his club and the Cowboys – who suffered disappointing losses to the Tigers and Roosters before hitting form last week against the Warriors – had had wake-up calls of late.
"Obviously they've come off a few losses and we went up to Suncorp and didn't put in a second half performance against quality side so as I said we need to fix that, have high completion rates against them and both teams have to win this game to stay in the top four," Morris said.
"They've probably been a bit down on form and they needed a win to get back on track and they did that against the Warriors so it sets up a good clash. Both teams want to win and both teams want to stay in the top four so it's a must-win clash for both sides."
The carrot of securing a second bite in September football would also be a driving force, Morris added.
"It is handy to have two bites [by finishing top four]. Sometimes teams get to the finals and don't put in a good performance and if you're in that top four you have that luxury of being able to go out the next week and redeem yourself so it is very important to be in that top four," he said.
The Dogs are hoping to learn a few lessons not just from their last loss to the Cowboys but also from the two games North Queensland has lost since.
In Round 20 the Dogs conceded a huge six forced drop outs – largely off the pinpoint boot of Johnathan Thurston – which is a tactic the Bulldogs playmakers have largely shunned this season. Meanwhile the Tigers and Roosters each had success rushing up on Thurston and piling on the kick pressure and cutting down his options.
"As of late our halves have put a few kicks into the in-goals and gotten a few repeat sets. That's something we have spoken about," Morris said.
"We've got to back them and if they want to put it in the in-goals that we know it's on and that we're chasing so we don't give up that seven tackle set. I think in the past few weeks we've gotten a few repeat sets and we certainly need that against the Cowboys.
"I think the last time they played us they got six so we need to be doing the same thing against them and making sure they're making plenty of tackles as well."
Of the possible blueprint to beating the Cowboys mapped out by the Tigers and Warriors, Morris added: "[The Tigers] did a really good job that day, and in saying that their attack was really good that day as well, they ran with purpose.
"The Roosters played probably their best game of the season against them and so did the Tigers. It's all about attack as well as defence.
"Thurston told his halves to step up I heard over the weekend and Morgan and Coote both did an outstanding job to help him so you can't just focus on Thurston because Morgan and Coote are both quality players as well. And you throw in Granville as well, he hurt us last time as well."
Tolman was also eyeing off the chance to cut down Thurston's time and space.
"That definitely did work against the Cowboys and a guy like Johnathan Thurston if you cut down his time it allows him to make more rushed decisions," Tolman said.
"Most of the time they're good anyway because he's a great player but that's what they were trying to do, shut him down before he could get the pass over the top."