Why the Dogs fell at the final hurdle
Melbourne Storm on route to their 2012 grand final triumph. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Like any other Bulldog supporter last Sunday evening, I was a dejected, heartbroken figure watching the Melbourne Storm deservedly lift the NRL premiership trophy.
Des Hasler has performed miracles this season. Not only did he lead Canterbury to the 2012 Minor Premiership and the grand final, but he instilled a new culture that will hopefully see future success for the boys from Belmore.
They spent over a million dollars on state of the art training facilities which saw them return to their spiritual home in Belmore. This new look Canterbury, was perhaps best summed up by Peter Sterling in Channel 9 commentary, when he suggested that “they’re a hybrid of Ted Glossop’s ‘Entertainers’ and Warren Ryan’s ‘Dogs of War’”.
A fit and fast side that played an incredibly attractive open style of rugby league, matched with gritty goal-line defence.
I won’t disagree with Peter Sterling – they were a great side to watch all season. But the question remains: after all the regular season dominance, how did they fall at the last hurdle?
Craig Bellamy is one hell of a coach, and that Sunday afternoon in Mackay when Canterbury downed the Storm 20-4 was more than just a lesson learned. It became the catalyst in the plot that Bellamy had conjured for the Bulldogs downfall for the next time the two sides met.
Canterbury’s success was on the back of a big and skilful forward pack, one which revolutionised the way forwards play through a short interchange of passing, which churned up metres through the middle of the park with ease, something much needed after a disastrous 2011 season.
However, I will go as far to say that the skill of this forward pack also became Canterbury’s achilles heel.
Having watched all of the Bulldogs games throughout the season it had become clear that many of the tries scored had been outside the opposition 40, a simple yet effective second man play, that usually saw two decoy runners, James Graham (or Sam Kasiano), to Josh Reynolds, to Ben Barba who would get outside of his marker back inside to Josh Morris.
It would usually result in a try. Just like a metronome, it happened over and over until the Dogs marched into the grand final with a comprehensive win over Souths.
But the previous night, having watched Melbourne easily dispose of Manly, made me realise that Canterbury wouldn’t have it so easy. I mainly noticed the way the Storm slid in defence.
There was nothing haphazard about it, it was intense, and very pleasing to watch. The way Will Chambers and Dane Nielsen came up and in, then started sliding right and left depending on the plays that Manly attempted to bring to fruition was almost hypnotic.
In a heartbeat, both centres would diffuse any half chance that Manly may have had. This defensive masterclass was mirrored on grand final day, any half chance the Bulldogs had to create room for Ben Barba on the fringes was immediately put to bed.
The up and in defence of the Storm stifled Canterbury of their favoured attacking weapon, the second man play. Ben Barba now had no room to move, and it was left to Canterbury’s halves to create chances in attack.
This is where Canterbury’s problems begin. I won’t go as far to say that they haven’t done too much all season, Josh Reynolds contended for the Dally M, and Kris Keating definitely stood up in the absence of Trent Hodkinson.
However, their inability to create scoring opportunities inside the opposition 20 was more than obvious, and has been obvious all season.
All it took was for one well coached, well drilled team to identify that. Enter the genius that is Craig Bellamy.
You could tell from kick off that the Storm came out with a strict game plan. Repeat sets was the key, have the monster Canterbury forwards defend for the majority of the opening stanza, tire them, nullify their impact to make metres, and lay down the challenge to the Canterbury halves to take responsibility for creating opportunities.
Time after time, the second-man play was cut off prematurely, and the Dogs, who had it so easy all season, began to panic.
Their halves tried, but were exposed for a lack of creative spark, which saw them score only due to some quick off the cuff thinking by Krisnan Inu that saw Sam Perrett score. The Storm however, on the back of the big three, scored three incredibly well executed tries within the Dogs 30m line.
That’s what separated the Premiers from the runners up, and is the reason why the Dogs fell at the final hurdle.
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