It’s Sudden Death Sunday as last year’s grand finalists the Canterbury Bulldogs take on a Newcastle Knights side in their first finals campaign under Wayne Bennett. Join us for live scores and commentary from 4pm AEST.
The Bulldogs may have finished slightly higher on the ladder, but the Knights have had the wood over them so far in 2013.
A 44-8 drubbing at Newcastle was followed by an 18-12 victory at the Bulldogs’ home away from home, Ben Barba’s hometown of Mackay.
Comparing this year’s Mackay fixture with last year’s – when Barba turned on one of the most memorable performances of the past decade – is actually quite an apt way to contrast the Bulldogs’ past two seasons.
They built their 2012 success on a winning attacking formula: runaround plays from dummy half, big men passing at the line and Barba injecting himself into backline movements to create havoc for the defence.
It might be Barba’s well-documented off-field dramas, it might be that the Storm laid the blueprint for defending them in last year’s grand final, but the Bulldogs just haven’t had the same bite in 2013.
They’ll need to rediscover some of that bite if they’re to beat a much-improved Knights side today.
The Novocastrians are coming off a 54-6 demolition of Parramatta last week – not an unprecedented feat, admittedly, but still enough to show they mean business at the back end of the season.
Jarrod Mullen has been in excellent form all year, Darius Boyd is hitting the kind that saw him win a Clive Churchill Medal in 2010, and their forward pack has more big-game experience than any in the competition.
Add a backline that is one of the most potent (58 tries between them) and hard-working (each averaging well over 100 metres per match) in the competition and it’s clear that the Knights shouldn’t be underestimated.
The Bulldogs certainly aren’t short of X-factors, though. From Barba to Josh Morris to Tony Williams, if one or, heaven forbid, more of these blokes fire, the Bulldogs can beat any team.
And with Barba set to head to the Broncos under controversial circumstances next season, this is his opportunity to give Bulldogs fans something more than a sour taste to remember him by.
Still, I don’t quite understand how the Bulldogs are $1.50 favourites – I think the Knights look the stronger side, and I’m tipping them to win by 8.
Can the Bulldogs rediscover some of their 2012 bite and make an impact in the first week of the finals, or will the Knights march on?
Join us for live scores and commentary from 4pm AEST, and be sure to let us know your thoughts if you’re following along.