While the Bulldogs have been arguably the form team throughout the 2009 NRL season (don’t forget they have had 4 competitions deducted through sheer bad luck; the substitute deduction against Penrith and then the robbery by Steve Clark when they played the Dragons)
The Bulldogs have progressed from a basic, disciplined game that while slightly grinding – was based on low errors, few penalties and executing on final tackle options.
Sounds simple right? Well, why is it that so many other teams can’t abide by these most basic, but critical foundations?
As the Bulldogs were able to continually perform in this manner, it then led to confidence and allowed them to step things up a notch and begin to blow teams away as they got better and better.
The Eels are the most recent example. Parramatta were wooden spoon chances 8 weeks ago – the reason they have turned it around so quickly is that they started to get back to basics. Sure, they needed some major overhauls in defence – but the success came through less penalties and less tackling overall.
The Eels ground out wins over the Broncos and Storm, they weren’t pretty – but they got the chocolates. This came through limited errors, few penalties and drilling the ball into touch on many of the final tackle plays.
After the got home in these games, they started to believe. With the ground work in place, they were ideally set to start expanding and really blowing teams away.
If you take teams like the Wests Tigers and Canberra Raiders; their attacking ability is extremely impressive. Both these sides have speed to burn and youth that creates some exciting attacking movements.
Now while the Tigers did manage to get on a hot 6 game run, both Wests and the Raiders have trouble with penalties and more recently basic errors.
You take a Bryce Gibbs or a John Morris, both these guys will be guaranteed to give away a penalty *every* single game. And it’s surprising that Tim Sheens hasn’t addressed this sooner, maybe it’s a depth issue – but penalties kill your chances. Repeat sets in modern day Rugby League are like gold, as most teams can use the field position and possession to score.
The Dragons and Knights are facing this very problem at the moment.
Take the Dragons against Souths this weekend. Errors and overall lack of discipline killed them. With every failure in these small departments, the pressure builds, the losses come and the confidence drains – you need to go back to scratch to build that momentum again.
The Knights undid all their hard work of recent weeks this weekend too. Punches were thrown, they tried to muscle in on their younger opponents and everything went out the window. Not only did they lose, they face an injury and suspension wrap sheet that could see them very vulnerable against the Penrith Panthers next week.
Now it’s interesting to see in all this talk, no one has mentioned the Gold Coast Titans.
This year the Titans have flown beautifully under the radar, their performances have been consistent and they’ve taken plenty of big scalps. Only a whisker off the minor premiership, the Titans with little media pressure at the moment and an all important home semi-final are well placed to take out the big prize.
At this stage, they look set to face the Brisbane Broncos at Skilled Stadium in a juicy first up finals clash. Given the recent form of the Broncos (fairly inconsistent) the Titans look like good things to get a first up finals win.
Now while the Sydney folk talk about the stuttering Dragons, the injury hit Bulldogs or the cinderella Eels – the Titans are the team at the moment that look most likely to win the NRL competition on our eyes.
Now maybe coach John Cartwright knows a thing or two about the little things in the game?