Wednesday 21 February 2018 / 08:28 AM


If you were after a microcosmic view of the Canterbury Bulldogs’ 2017 struggles, Thursday night’s do-or-die match-up against Penrith would do the trick.

All the elements were there in the 16-8 defeat at Pepper Stadium: the dull, unimaginative attack, the disjointed passing sequences, even a short drop-out! The crux? After 21 rounds, and plenty of scrutiny from all angles, the Bulldogs are still managing to lose games the same way.

There is plenty wrong with the make-up of the team. Hopoate is completely miscast at fullback, their spine possesses no creative playmaking and the pack doesn’t dominate the middle third to cover for the gaps elsewhere. The structure and game-plan continue to be monotonous and uninventive, misusing their forwards and plowing away with tactics that has been proven outdated time and time again.

It’s hard to even assign blame when they’re on the line and the ball finds Klemmer at first receiver (out of habit, mind you) on fifth tackle that leads to a turnover 30 metres behind the ruck. The most surprising part of their season is how, whether it be through arrogance, persistence or some strange mix of the two, they’ve stuck to their guns on the on-field product.

And ultimately, that’s why this year will be chalked up as a failure — the inability to adapt when it’s blatantly clear the preempted plan wasn’t going to get the job done.

Plenty of criticism has been thrown the way of coach Des Hasler; some warranted, some collateral from an irritated fanbase and displeased management. And whilst there’s no doubting Hasler’s coaching chops, at some point there has to be an acknowledgement that what they were trying to achieve simply wasn’t an efficient way of winning. A quick scan of all 16 teams, and it’s easy to say that the Bulldogs are the side that most resemble themselves from the start of the season. They haven’t developed their style, corrected flaws or looked for alternatives; instead they’ve persisted with the broken logic that, at some point, it will simply just click. It hasn’t, and Newcastle, who have only won two games, have displayed more growth over the year.

So the excuses have run dry. Hasler can’t claim this isn’t his roster, he’s been in charge for five seasons, and hasn’t attempted to move the pieces around aside from pulling the pin on Michael Lichaa about 10 weeks too late. The hallmark of a great coach isn’t the ability to recruit and build a roster. Sure, that’s important too, but it’s the value they bring out of the 17 every week, the ability to close the talent gap and implement a system that brings the most out of who is on the field that most demonstrates their value. In that case, Hasler has failed.

The irritations of the front office, the lack of imagination in selection and lack of innovation has filtered to the playing group, one that is poorly put-together in the first place, and the cloud of malcontent that has hovered over the club has festered into bad results.

Yet they still aren’t getting played off the park. As was the case against the Panthers, they fought to the very end, their defence keeping them within arm’s reach whilst their attack repetitively let them down. Maybe that would make it easier to do away with the entire concept in the first place, a reality check to lay out what the rest of the rugby league world has been shouting at them all season.

But they’ve continued on the path, and history repeats.

Don’t expect things to change anytime soon. Although their season is in the books, they still have five games to go. Their run home is no murderers row, and whist they play three current top-eight sides (Dragons, Eagles, Eels), they avoid any of the competition heavyweights and play only one game away from home. So more than likely, things will just keep on keeping on, and that has the potential to get real ugly when the fans check out and the Dogs have to run out at home in meaningless fixtures against rival Sydney clubs to get whipped around the park.

And as we’ve been saying all year, maybe then they’ll learn.

[YouTube – NRL 2017]

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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