The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have won their second match of the 2019 NRL season with a comfortable 24-12 victory over the North Queensland Cowboys at ANZ Stadium.
It is a shame more people were not at the ground to watch another brave and resilient display from the Bulldogs, yet the 6:oopm Friday, graveyard game struck again and less than 7,000 fans witnessed the action.
Not to be denied, the blue and whites couldn’t have cared less about crowd numbers. For Dean Pay and his chargers, this season is all about scrapping and scraping their way through, building combinations and proving many of the doubters wrong in preparation for 2020 and beyond.
Eight to ten wins would be a fair return for the Dogs and their second was claimed in emphatic style against a very disappointing Cowboy’s side on Friday.
It was something of an uninspiring first half where the most notable action was a disallowed try to Jayden Okunbor that cost the Bulldogs the early lead. It was one of the most bizarre forward pass decisions I have seen and worthy of a referee/touch judge demotion next weekend.
The Cowboys took advantage and scored first through Justin O’Neill in the 13th minute before Okunbor crossed out wide five minutes before the break. Rhyse Martin’s conversion sent the sides to the sheds level at six apiece after a first half that most will forget pretty quickly.
The contest exploded after the break with Corey Harawira-Naera playing his best 40 minutes of football for his new club. Running brilliant angles on the fringe of the ruck, the 23 year old scored barnstorming tries in the 51st and 65th minutes, whilst captain Josh Jackson crashed over in the 60th.
From a tight scoreline at the break, the Bulldogs built a 24-6 lead in the blink of an eye and looked far from a side that are most people’s favourites for the wooden spoon.
Aiden Tolman was superb once again, clocking up metres and tackling tirelessly. Ofahiki Ogden played strongly in the engine room and Jeremy Marshall-King produced another strong defensive display with 42 tackles that helped defend the middle third of the field.
Reimis Smith and Okunbor both ran for 143 metres and are finally providing the punch and influence from the wings that the Bulldogs have lacked for so long.
In a match where Okunbor erred on numerous occasions and was caught out in defence more than once, many Bulldog fans have called for a change on his flank. In my view, they are mad.
With three tackle busts and another match with running metres well in excess of 100, Okunbor is an experiment with which it is worth persisting. For such an inexperienced player, his debut in the top grade has been impressive. So much so, that clubs are reportedly sniffing around in the hope of stealing more of the Bulldogs’ home grown talent.
Forget the handling errors and defensive lapses, Okunbor looks a star of the future and deserving of more support from some Canterbury fans who appear very much like ‘glass half empty’ thinkers.
It was a morale boosting win for the blue and whites and Harawira-Naera’s 149 running metres, two tries and 43 tackles was the stand out performance of the night.
Round 8 presents a golden opportunity for the Bulldogs to move to the fringes of the eight, with a trip to Lottoland to face the destructive Des Hasler and his inconsistent Sea Eagles on Sunday.
Could there be anything more satisfying for the Canterbury faithful than getting one up on their previous coach, who many still blame for the salary cap disasters of recent times?
I think not. It will be fun.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 24 North Queensland Cowboys 12