Cameron Ciraldo has been announced as the new coach of the Canterbury Bulldogs on a five-year deal.
Interim coach Mick Potter and captain Josh Jackson cannot believe that Josh Addo-Carr’s position in the NSW side is under threat.
St George Illawarra came out on top of an entertaining clash with the Canterbury Bulldogs, winning 34-24 in front of a healthy, partisan crowd of 16,991 at Belmore Sports Ground.
On the day that he was reported to have lost his place on the wing for NSW, Addo-Carr endured a poor showing and was responsible for two of the Dragons tries. There had been widespread shock when the news broke in the morning, but by the end of this game, it made a lot more sense.
Potter and Jackson defended Addo-Carr’s performance and backed him for Blues inclusion a few hours before the team was due to be named.
“He’s an incumbent and he’s a very good Origin player,” said Potter. “I would be surprised if he’s not in the team. I’d be disappointed for Josh, I hope that’s not the case.
Jackson added: “He’s been really good in that Origin side, he’s been part of it for a few years now and he’s put in some great performances.
“The energy he brings around a place too, it’s pretty infectious so I’d imagine that’s something that Brad Fittler would want to have in his camp throughout the week.”
St George Illawarra have not always impressed even when they have got results this year, but were a little to good all along for the Bulldogs: they completed typically high and, when the inevitable pressure came, defended stoutly.
The centres, in particular, were excellent: Zac Lomax scored one and made another at crucial moments while Moses Suli carried hard for 121m, 58 of them post-contact.
“They (the Bulldogs) probably played their best game of the year so the result was great,” said Anthony Griffin. “We had to win it a couple of times there. It ended up like a game of basketball.
“We’ve done a good job over the last seven weeks: we had a slow start but we’ve won five out of seven and should have won six.
“We’re working really hard at the moment and we’ll be better at the back end of the year, but at the moment, we’re working harder than we need to.
“Today was always going to be tough, they’ve got some brilliant players and they’re hard to defend again. There was a 10-3 penalty and six again count plus 15,000 Bulldogs waiting to see a win. It was always going to be one of those days and we have to keep learning our lessons.”
The Dogs unveiled a new attacking system that had Kyle Flanagan at its heart: this was the first time that he has taken more touches than his halfback partner, Matt Burton, and it saw them threaten with the ball more than perhaps at any point so far in 2022.
Matt Dufty had an afternoon that was almost his entire career in microcosm: he had three try assists and two line breaks, but coughed up unforgivable errors from fullback that invited so much unnecessary pressure.
The Dogs again scored their most points of the season so far – topping the 22 they managed in defeat to the Tigers last week – and are generally improved with ball in hand, but some of their defensive efforts, particularly on the goalline, were well below what is required at this level.
“It’s just non-existent,” said Potter of the defence. “There’s no toughness to it at all at the moment. We just need to be tougher.”
Jackson put the lapses down to technical issue. “Technically is the main thing,” he said.
“We’ve had periods in games throughout the year where we’ve done really well and defended our line for 20 minute periods, and then others like today where we just concede too cheaply through our middle. We can’t be having that.”
The Dogs began brightly, with Luke Thompson busting the line and creating the conditions for Matt Burton to open the scoring via a penalty goal.
It was about as good as the first half got for Burton with the boot: the normally excellent five eighth couldn’t deal with a strong Belmore wind and sent three too long, wasting promising field position and gifting the Dragons extra tackles.
St George Illawarra crept up the field and began to dominate possession. After a series of set restarts, it told. Addo-Carr made a poor defensive read on Zac Lomax, allowing the centre to find late callup Tautau Moga for a try on debut at his sixth NRL club.
The Bulldogs reverted to type. Matt Dufty dropped a bomb, welcoming the Dragons back in, and Mat Feagai was able to cross easily at the corner.
Burton sent the kick off out on the full and moments later, Ben Hunt wandered through a legs tackle on the line from Corey Waddell for another. It was maddeningly familiar to Bulldogs fans.
The Dragons, however, have had their own issues at the back. Cody Ramsey, returned to the fullback role last week, dropped a kick of his own and invited field position from which Jake Averillo got the Dogs on the board.
The Dogs came out firing for the second half. Burton stripped the ball from Moga to give the Dogs good ball, which again led to Dufty putting Averillo in down the right.
Dufty then made a break of his own, skinning the Dragons edge defence and dumping inside to Kyle Flanagan for a try that was celebrated to the rafters at Belmore.
Just as belief built, however, it faded away. The Dogs lost the ball on the second tackle after points and another poor defensive read from Addo-Carr saw Lomax score at the corner.
There were chances at the other end. Burton broke the line, found Averillo and he picked the worst possible moment for a no-look pass: there was nobody there and the opportunity went.
They would rue the miss. After another Dufty error at the back, Andrew McCullough ran straight over the fullback on the line and needed no second invitation to score under the posts.
Addo-Carr had endured a terrible afternoon in defence, but when Burton spotted a gap behind the line, the winger raced through onto a kick and flicked inside for Aaron Schoupp to strike immediately back. The gap was back to four points with just 12 to play.
The Bulldogs, again, failed to take their chance in attack as Addo-Carr’s pass missed Schoupp with the line begging, and again were made to pay: Blake Lawrie crashed in from close range for his first NRL try in game 91. It would be enough to see them home.