The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have blown a golden opportunity to get their season rolling with an uninspiring 18-10 loss to an undermanned Manly side at Lottoland on Saturday.
Without key personnel Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom Trbojevic, the Sea-Eagles were ripe for the picking. With former Bulldogs coach Des Hasler masterminding what has been a promising start to the season for Manly, there had been much discussion around many of the retention and recruitment decisions made during his time at the club.
Many fans saw an opportunity to show Hasler that despite the obvious rebuild taking place, the Bulldogs were doing just fine under new coach Dean Pay. Put simply, a win at Lottoland would mean a lot.
The Bulldogs welcomed back Dylan Napa and after encouraging signs in the Round 7 win over the Cowboys, looked more than capable of knocking off a Manly side that had won three of its last four matches.
Manly scored early off the back of a piggy-back penalty; so often the way in modern rugby league and when a Bulldogs’ pass was wrongly adjudicated as forward after 15 minutes, the home side took full advantage.
Their second try set up a 12-0 lead that potentially failed to reflect the tight nature of the contest. Jayden Okunbur and Kerrod Holland continued to struggle with their defensive reads and despite much trust being invested in Holland at first grade level, the time appears nigh to make a change.
The difference between the defensive security displayed on the right flank of Remis Smith and Will Hopoate and Okunbor and Holland’s side of the field is vast. It is also unsustainable.
Each week tries will be scored down that edge until Pay is able to find a personnel or tactical solution to the issue.
Reimis Smith scored Canterbury’s first try in the 21st minute to edge the Bulldogs closer at 12-6 before a late penalty goal to the home side extended their lead at the break.
The blue and white attack never found top gear at Lottoland despite the best efforts of Jack Cogger who played another excellent game for his new club.
Lachlan Lewis was too busy making 33 tackles to contribute effectively in attack and as the Bulldogs’ most creative player, cannot be asked to complete such a defensive load on a regular basis.
There was little creativity or imagination in the forwards’ interplay and the back line threw few seriously threatening attacks at the home side.
Jeremy Marshall-King again tackled himself to a standstill with 42 defensive efforts, yet Corey Harawira-Naera was unable to recapture the form of a week ago.
Rhyse Martin, Adam Elliott and Harawira-Naera’s efforts to hit the fringes and offload to supporting runners were consistently blunted by a disciplined and well drilled Manly defence.
Ofahiki Ogden played a strong 26 minutes and it might be time for Pay to gradually extend his playing time. The big front-rower dented the line often enough to suggest he is a potential long term option in the forwards.
Napa did well in his return, despite playing less than half a game and Okunbor continued his consistent metre gaining with another 180.
Despite another try to Smith in the 59th minute, 14-10 was as close as the Bulldogs would come, with two late penalty goals extending the final margin to eight.
It was a flat day for Canterbury. The effort was there, yet Nick Meaney couldn’t ignite anything from the back and the halves were met at every turn by a wall of defenders.
The coaching staff will head back to the drawing board during the week in the hope of unlocking some more attacking options. Ten points doesn’t win too many games in the NRL and the Bulldogs will need to show a lot more in attack if they are to score heavily enough in matches where the two points are up for grabs.
Magic Round presents one of those opportunities when the Bulldogs face the Knights at Suncorp Stadium next weekend.
Manly Sea-Eagles 18 Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 10