Canterbury-Bankstown has suffered a disappointing loss on the final day of the season, as the Sharks proved too consistent in a 30-18 victory.
After such a promising run of wins, the Bulldogs looked a little fatigued and the mammoth effort over the course of the last month may well have taken its toll on the squad.
The young players in particular have never experienced the consistent intensity of the NRL for such a long period and it appeared Lachlan Lewis, Jeremy Marshall-King and Adam Elliott were well and truly cooked. The professionalism of the Sharks tested their energy levels for one last time and the spark just wasn’t quite there for the final challenge of the season.
All three have performed beyond the expectations of many and loom as potential cornerstones of the squad moving forward. Along with Reimis Smith and Rhyse Martin, the club looks to have found some immense young talent which Dean Pay should be able to parlay into more wins in 2019.
It was a frustrating day that saw a dominant first half from the Sharks on the back of some appalling decisions from the officials. Stray feet touching sidelines, Canterbury players shoved out of the way illegally and a bizarre decoy non-call that led directly to a Sharks try, all hampered the hopes of the blue and whites.
Strangely, each and every time the Bulldogs crossed the line, the officials took every opportunity to search for a reason to deny the points. Or so it appeared to me.
In the end, it was the excellent ‘control’ of the ruck contest that saw the Sharks able to cut the Bulldogs’ right edge defence to pieces. It has been an issue all season and Kerrod Holland will be having nightmares about Valentine Holmes running in his direction.
Three early Cronulla tries had the Sharks well clear at 16-2 before four pointers to William Hopoate and Michael Lichaa saw the Bulldogs storm back to a 12-16 deficit just before the break. A late Cronulla try hurt and the visitors took a 20-12 lead into the sheds.
Holmes struck early in the second half and despite a Brett Morris try to celebrate his final game for the club, it wasn’t to be for the home side. Cronulla stretched its lead to 30-18 in the 57th minute and that was the way it remained, as the match became something of a slog over the final half hour.
All the good signs were still there for the Bulldogs and now the work begins in planning a resurgence back to the top eight in 2019. It has been a year from hell and hope all at the same time; with things looking as grim as they ever have early in the season and the future now starting to appear on the horizon.
It was an emotional farewell for Brett and Josh Morris, Greg Eastwood and Matt Frawley. They have all been valuable and loyal servants to the club. We wish them the best in whichever direction their careers and lives take them in the future. There will always be a little blue and white in them.
At the end of the day, the Bulldogs will finish the 2018 NRL season in 12th place; not what the coach, players or fans had hoped for when things began back in March. But that is the reality for this season. The focus now should be on the next one.
It promises to be a season of redemption and re-invigoration; a season where the Bulldogs will aim to return to the semi-finals and stamp their famous brand well and truly back on the NRL competition.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 18 Cronulla Sharks 30
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