They say a week is a long time in rugby league. That must mean a month is like a lifetime.
That sentiment rings true when you reflect on the last four weeks of the competition and think about how much has changed.
The Melbourne Storm announced Cooper Cronk would be granted an early release from his contract to move to Sydney to be with his fiancée Tara Rushton. The Manly Sea Eagles have gone from being premiership pretenders to contenders and back again. At this stage Mitchell Moses will swap black and orange for blue and gold from 2018 (however that might change by the time this article is published) and Ivan Cleary is a first grade coach again. Jason Taylor is not.
But when it comes to performance on the field, the biggest change in my view has been at the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.
It almost seems a lifetime ago that the rugby league world had its fingers firmly pointed at Des Hasler. After a dismal start to the season which saw the Bulldogs lose three out of their first four games, there were calls to sack the coach (or, at the very least, not renew his contract past the 2017 season).
Then in Round 5 the Bulldogs defeated premiership heavyweights the Brisbane Broncos, Des signed a contract extension which will see him remain at the club until the end of 2019 and in the weeks following, the Bulldogs defeated the Newcastle Knights and the South Sydney Rabbitohs and found themselves sitting in the top eight.
The Bulldogs now head into their game against the Wests Tigers looking for their fourth win in a row.
So what changed?
I can point to a couple of things.
First, the resurgence of the monstrous Bulldogs forward pack.
During the Broncos game, David Klemmer had 23 carries and made 295 metres. James Graham was inspirational as captain with one of the highlights of that game being his tackle on Corey Oates to take the winger into touch with just 10 minutes to go and with his team up by three. That one tackle added to an already immense work rate of over 50 tackles and 180 metres and proved how important James is as a leader for the Bulldogs in actions and words.
With James Graham and David Klemmer in improved form and Sam Kasiano having immediate impact when he comes off the bench, it’s no surprise that with the Bulldogs forwards doing their job, it gives the men in the halves the space to do theirs.
And that brings me to the biggest change in the last couple of weeks – the halves.
It’s no coincidence that there was a change in the halves pairing during the game against the Broncos which instantly bore results on the field.
With Moses Mbye suspended for the clash, youngster Matt Frawley was given his first opportunity at the top level and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
One recent criticism of the Bulldogs has been that their halves pairing of Josh Reynolds and Moses Mbye play in a way which is too similar to each other. Neither Moses or Josh have demonstrated that they can play that traditional halfback role – one that organises play, is dependable week-in-week-out and consistently chooses the right option on the fifth tackle.
Instead both men play what’s in front of them and are both exciting and unpredictable when playing their best footy.
When Frawley made his debut against the Broncos, he showed that he could play a more traditional-type halfback role for the Bulldogs. He was calm under pressure, had considered options on the fifth tackle and had a good kicking game. With similar performances against the Knights and the Rabbitohs, Matt has proved that he is not a one trick pony and the Bulldogs performances have reflected the impact that having a more balanced halves pairing can bring.
When Matt comes off the bench and plays the halfback role, it has helped Josh Reynolds get back to his best footy which sees him darting around, playing unstructured footy and playing what’s in front of him.
So stark is the difference, that instead of asking when Des will be sacked, rugby league fans have a new question – when is Des going to start Matt Frawley?
I think most are hoping the answer is sooner rather than later.
Josh Reynolds has been key to the Bulldogs resurgence in the last couple of weeks so it absolutely baffles me that many rugby league pundits think that this weekend he is playing for his future.
Josh is one of my favourite players in the NRL. What he lacks in raw talent he makes up with courage, competitiveness, determination and persistence. He can certainly be accused of caring too much about his performance on the field, but given a choice between a player who cares too much or too little, I know who I choose every time.
In the last three weeks, Josh’s enthusiasm and never give up attitude have sparked the Bulldogs attack – you need look no further back than Friday night when he chased through his own grubber to score the most unexpected of tries.
Josh Reynolds is Canterbury to the bone and seeing him in anything other than blue and white would be blasphemy.
It’s about far more than just his footballing ability – it’s his commitment to the Belmore area where he grew up, his genuine kindness and interest towards the fans and his love of the Canterbury Bulldogs. Any man that declares he would be devastated to play for another club is a man that I want to keep.
With Matt Frawley starting, Josh Reynolds being his partner in the halves and Moses shifting to hooker, I see potential for a spine that can shake-up the competition.
I only hope that Des sees this too and that in the next month we see Josh Reynolds re-signed by the Canterbury Bulldogs.