Matthew Attard – Are The Canterbury Bulldogs Stuck In A Rut?

Fans are fuming at the Bulldogs last minute loss to the Penrith Panthers on Saturday afternoon, prompting all sorts of calls from the blue and white faithful.

Typical “sack him” calls have started while many are optimistic about what lies ahead for Des Hasler’s men.

But is there really anything to worry about? After all, we’re only three rounds into the competition.

Let’s take a look at a few areas of the Bulldogs squad and see what’s going right and what’s going wrong.

Wingers Still An Issue
For years the Bulldogs have been known as having small wingers, ones who aren’t too capable under a high ball. The Panthers exploited it perfectly on Saturday, scoring two tries from kicks and forcing several errors from high balls.

While Sam Perrett was a gem under the bomb, wingers Drury Low and Corey Thompson had a day to forget. So what is the plan? What can be done?

In the lower grades, the club has a couple of promising players such as John Sila, Ed Murphy, Kayne Brennan, Aaron Pene and Dujuan Liolevave however the issue is still the same as only Pene boasts any real height.

Height is not always a factor in being able to defuse high kicks, but the simple fact is that it goes a long way. Contested kicks are a massive part of the modern day game and the Bulldogs currently have only one winger capable of doing anything in the air and that is Mitch Brown, currently out injured with an ankle injury.

Is the answer to purchase a couple of quality wingers or is there something else that can be done? Both Pene and Liolevave are too young and raw to be promoted.

Nevertheless it remains a major problem for a Bulldogs side that is otherwise strong across the park.

Massive Pack Doing Well
While there are ongoing issues with Tony Williams the Bulldogs forwards are powerful, big and resilient. Aiden Tolman and James Graham are two of the premier props in the world and their contracts secured long term.

Add to that fellow forwards on-contract for at least another two years in Frank Pritchard, Dale Finucane, Josh Jackson, Sam Kasiano, David Klemmer, Pat O’Hanlon, Greg Eastwood and Tim Browne, plus the addition of Andrew Fifita in 2014, and you’ll find the pack will only continue to prosper into the future.

Plus, you even have the likes of Lachlan Burr, Lloyd Perrett, David Minute, Jack Creighton and Shaun Lane and it’s clear that Hasler is building his team around these massive and skilful forwards.

No doubt the club will loose a few of these players over the coming few years but the nucleus will stay the same.

Key Combos Just Aren’t Clicking
Michael Ennis is a very good hooker, but it is clear he’s losing his touch. He is still a magnificent defender but his lack of attack and inability to link up well with his playmakers so far this season is a big concern.

On top of that, both Reynolds and Hodkinson in the halves are lacking creativity and direction on the last tackle, particularly when in the opposition 10 metre zone.

Reynolds is an x-factor, no doubt. Some of the things this bloke can do with a footy is amazing and he has shown already in 2014 that he is a genuine football player. Hodkinson too has shown promise, running the ball more and having a soung long kicking game.

However, both men’s last tackle options have left a lot to be desired in the three games played so far. Even in the round two thrashing of the Sharks many opportunities went astray from sheer poor choices.

There are no excuses with the forward pack. When you have guys like Pritchard, Graham, Tolman and co gaining you field position you need to repay their hard work.

They can turn it around, no doubt. But whether or not they can turn it enough around to steer the team to a premiership remains to be seen.

Tony Williams…
What do you say about a giant of a man who just does not care? What do you do to awaken the beast? Seemingly nothing. He just does not want to be at the club and he has made that clear from the moment he signed, saying it was simply for the money.

That’s all well and good as many players sign with clubs for the money. But you will find mostly all of those players put in 100%. Perhaps T-Rex has fallen out of love with the game. Who knows? But surely, even at $650k a season, Hasler can’t put up with it for much longer.

He stands flat footed, often passes to stuck-in-the-mud team mates and rarely looks interested in anything at all that happens on the field. When he does run hard and straight he stops working once he hits the defensive line anyway.

I think I speak for all Bulldogs fans when I say that Williams needs a good boot up the backside and needs to show some respect for the jersey he wears, his team mates and the fans.

Sam Perrett Proving Critics Wrong
Let’s end this on a positive shall well? You would have been hard pressed to find someone who agreed with putting Sam Perrett in the number one jersey to replace Ben Barba.

The New Zealand International winger had no qualms with it, pointing out he played there plenty of times in the past for his former club and in his younger days, but that didn’t matter. People still said he was too slow, too old and not skilful enough to play at the back.

As the weeks have gone on he has done nothing but improve. His work ethic is phenomenal and he is slowly but surely learning when and how to chime into the attacking structure during matches.

He was average against the Broncos in round one, good against the Sharks in round two and excellent against the Panthers in round three. Not one to shy away from an attempt at taking a high ball, he would often drop his lollies.

But it’s clearly something he has been working on as he didn’t make an error at the back on Saturday. He also put in a lot of work making 18 runs, the most of any player in the match. If he can continue to improve at the rate he has been then perhaps the club won’t need to search for a fullback anymore.

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