On Sunday evening, the Bulldogs redefined mediocrity in an inept performance against the Wests Tigers at Bankwest Stadium.
It wasn’t as though there was little at stake. A chance to pole vault themselves off the bottom of the ladder was real, with the Broncos, Warriors and Titans all within for and against reach should the two points be secured.
Instead, Canterbury put in potentially the worst performance of any NRL club to this point of the season, in a 34-6 drubbing at the hands of an enthusiastic and committed Tigers team.
It was a drubbing in the true sense of the word and began when Will Hopoate left the field after just four minutes with a lower leg injury.
That event took one of the Bulldogs’ best out of action for the night and despite scoring the opening try in the 17th minute, the Tigers eventually put the peddle to the metal and ground the blue and whites into the dirt.
Three first half tries had the Tigers in front at the break. Four more sealed the deal in the second and rarely has a Bulldogs side looked to have completely lost interest and thrown the dummy from the proverbial cot so categorically.
Canterbury missed 32 tackles on the night, with another 24 proving to be ineffective. They made 13 errors and averaged just over 35 metres per attacking set, as Wests picked them off with ease.
The worst kept secret in the game was confirmed in the days leading up to the fixture, when the Bulldog’s board confirmed that moving on coach Dean Pay and looking in a new direction was definitely an option.
Pay was given a month to produce some green shoots of hope. Sadly, his charges produced nothing more than their worst performance of the season.
Recent turmoil at the Bulldogs has been well documented. Former coach Des Hasler drove the club to grand finals in 2012 and 2014, yet found himself jettisoned when the ramifications of the financial decisions he and the then board had made became clear.
In short, the Bulldogs were living in back-ended contract hell and subsequently saw a host of talented players leave the club in what appeared to be a “two steps back-three steps forward” strategy taken on by the new board.
With players such as Dale Finucane, James Graham, Sean Lane, Josh Reynolds and Damien Cook foolishly cut loose prior to Pay’s arrival, it left the rookie coach in a bind – soon to be also without names like Josh Morris, Brett Morris, David Klemmer and Aaron Woods.
What remained was a young squad with no proven halves and a willing yet underdeveloped forward pack. Captain Josh Jackson, Aiden Tolman and Hopoate kept the ship above water for the first two seasons of Pay’s reign, with late season wins potentially saving the coach’s skin in both 2018 and 2019.
With a seemingly permanently busted Kieran Foran providing little or no value throughout that period, Pay became a man likely to fail.
The question for Bulldog fans and the source of much debate in their social media interactions, is exactly who should carry the can for what already looks like a doomed 2020 NRL season.
In truth, the Belmore based club has the most wafer thin squad in the NRL. There is no creativity in the play-making stocks, a distinct lack of skill in reading attacking waves on the edge of the ruck and nothing more than honest, hard-working toilers in the middle of the field.
Combined, this translates to an average of 10.8 points per game, a scary figure considering 22 of those were scored in their lone win against the Dragons.
For those in the “sack the coach” brigade, 19 wins from 55 matches at a winning percentage of 35 provides plenty of weight to your argument. Pay has been far from a success in what is a results driven business.
Alternatively, those questioning the effort and skill of the squad at Pay’s disposal have an equally solid argument to present. It is difficult to find any Bulldog player, perhaps aside from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Jackson and Hopoate, whose form would see them selected in any NRL squad after seven weeks of play.
Watching the team drop their heads during the second half against the Tigers was alarming and while there is no doubt that Pay does not have a roster capable of playing finals football in 2020, it is still his job to maintain their level of enthusiasm and foster morale for the better days to come.
I guess, in summary, it is both Dean Pay and the players’ fault. He appears to have lost their trust and they are currently producing rubbish. Strangely, when push comes to shove in a few weeks’ time, I’m pretty sure I know who will fall on their sword.