The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have slumped to their ninth loss of the season after the Canberra Raiders travelled to ANZ Stadium and claimed a 12-10 victory on Saturday night.
Life as a Bulldogs fan is getting tougher by the week. In a 2019 season of few highlights, there was once again little to cheer about for the 7,213 fans who braved the first weekend of winter, in the hope of a reversal of blue and white fortunes.
The Dogs came close, yet even if Canterbury had managed to snatch a last gasp victory, the style of play the team is producing on the field is proving ineffective and equally as concerning as the win/loss column.
With just 152 points in 12 matches, the Bulldogs face the harsh reality of an attack that lacks precision, power and overall class. Defensively, things aren’t much better, with an NRL leading 264 points conceded.
Such numbers will be keeping coach Dean Pay up at night, as he continues to ring the changes in an attempt to find the right formula. It appears Pay is still yet to settle on what he feels is his best 17.
Corey Harawira-Naera was demoted for Round 12 and Lachlan Lewis continues to languish in reserve grade. After another disappointing result against the Raiders, both must surely come into contention for next week’s clash with the Dragons.
The Bulldogs were poor in the first half with seven errors eliminating any chance of them building periods of sustained pressure.
Despite the visitors playing without three State of Origin representatives and three injured stars, the Raiders managed tries in the 24th and 27th minutes to set up a deserved and comfortable 10-0 lead at the break.
Matching their season of inconsistency. the Bulldogs were much improved in the second half and an arm wrestled unfolded during the first 20 minutes.
It was Jack Cogger who finally put the Bulldogs’ first points on the board when he scooted through the defence and scored in the 59th minute. Marcelo Montoya added another just five minutes later to level the match 10-10.
Montoya has been a standout in recent weeks since being recalled from the reserves. Defensively, his impact has been positive and without being dynamic with the ball, he has run with purpose and aggression.
His 213 run metres on Saturday said much about his effort.
Jeremy Marshall-King was once again a Trojan in defence. However, his 52 tackles were offset by just two runs. Attacking play from the hooking position still remains an issue for the Dogs. It is a vital piece of the overall threat offered by NRL spines.
Josh Jackson and Adam Elliott took on enormous workloads with 44 and 40 tackles respectively and Kieran Foran played strongly with Cogger in the halves, despite still struggling to create enough clear attacking opportunities.
Those lack of opportunities continue to plague the Bulldogs. On Saturday night they led the Raiders in run metres, post-contact metres, kick return metres and average play-the-ball speed, yet failed to execute when in the attacking zone.
At 87%, the green machine used their completion rate to grind away and on the back of a far better kicking game than the Bulldogs, looked likely winners until Canterbury grabbed their two tries.
With just 15 minutes remaining, Reimis Smith had the ball stripped from his possession and it gave Canberra the opportunity to seal the match.
When Elliott attempted the same moments later and was penalised, the penalty goal became the deciding moment and the Raiders managed the remainder of the game to ‘ice’ their creditable victory.
A win would have eased some of the pain for supporters yet even if the Bulldogs had pulled the match from the fire, attacking issues would remain their Achilles heel.
No doubt Pay will tinker with his squad once again this week, in his never ending search for consistency and points. The Dragons are always a stern challenge and they towelled up the Bulldogs 40-4 in Round 5.
As always, it will be a match that means a little more than the average NRL fixture.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 10 Canberra Raiders 12