Dog off the leash: Josh Reynolds streaks away from Dragons defenders during Sunday's match. Photo: Getty Images
It might not be the perfect formula. It certainly is not the prettiest method of play. However, the Canterbury Bulldogs have a style they can certainly call their own at the moment – and it’s working a treat.
This is a hard side to beat. The Bulldogs belted the Dragons 38-6 on Sunday afternoon at ANZ Stadium. If that score sounds dominant, rest assured it does not even begin to represent how comfortably the Bulldogs ruthlessly disposed of their opponents. With this victory the boys from Belmore now sit as sole leaders on top of the premiership table. No team in the NRL is more deserving of that position.
The Bulldogs’ brand of football is not flamboyant. However, it is beautiful in its simplicity. There are moments of breathtaking brilliance; but only because the platform of hard work and relentless go-forward has been established.
The strength of their attacking game is their control and their variety. They can advance the ball upfield through a combination of charging runs from their big men, or through the stringing together of short chain passes that simply prevent the opposition from gang-tackling the man in possession and slowing the play-the-ball.
They look like a giant blue wave. Slowly building in size and intensity, they make their way forward, before releasing all their energy and force as they crash upon the beach. The Dragons players might have had more luck trying to hold back the tide than resisting the power running of the Bulldog’s forward pack on Sunday.
Coach Des Hasler has built his side around size and brute force, but has given his players areas of skill and plays to utilise, to mix up their game and keep defences guessing.
The Bulldogs start the contest with talented big men in the shape of James Graham, Aiden Tolman and Greg Eastwood. Once these guys have established ownership of the advantage line, Coach wheels in the wreckers. They have four big men on the interchange bench in Sam Kasiano, Tim Browne, David Klemmer and the very promising Dale Finucane, who enter the battle at the appropriate time to run roughshod over an already struggling opposition.
As the old saying goes, ‘‘Forwards win matches, the backs just determine by how far’’.
Bulldogs halfback Trent Hodgkinson is composed and totally in control. The five-eighth, Josh Reynolds, is hyperactive, speculative, energetic, aggressive and at times totally out of control. They make a great pairing.
Left centre Josh Morris has the blinding speed and brilliance. In right centre Tim Lafai the Dogs have an emerging powerhouse. The wingers Chase Stanley and Mitch Brown are tradesman who simply do their job. The fullback, Sam Perrett, is the consummate professional. He has loads of experience and bucket-loads of courage.
The centre of all the action, hooker and dummy half Michael Ennis, wanders around the field executing his role in virtual anonymity. With so many stars around him, his work is hardly noticed. Yet the trained eye identifies it is his professional service and relentless pursuit of excellence that provide the all-important hub of this attacking wheel.
So dominant were the Bulldogs, at times you could swear they were going through a training gallop. Never at any time during the contest did the Bulldogs’ defence look in any form of stress. They closed down the Dragons’ attacking game with ridiculous ease.
It would be cheap to say that the Dragons’ attacking game didn’t ask too many questions of the Bulldogs’ defence, but that would be underselling the competency of the Bulldogs’ defensive system.
No, there’s no two ways about it, in both attack and defence on Sunday, the Bulldogs showed they are setting the standard for all teams to catch in this 2014 NRL season.
The Dragons? All you can say is ‘‘ouch!’’ They tried hard. I saw no signs of their giving up. But there is nothing more disconcerting than giving a game your best shot, and then looking up at the scoreboard and seeing you’re down 38-0 with plenty of time left on the clock.
The Dragons just had no answer to the Bulldogs’ power and skill. In attack, they appeared bereft of ideas before the half-time break. Their confidence levels and shoulders sagged in frustration and acceptance that they could not get themselves into the contest.
Their signing of the great Benji Marshall now takes on a new level of importance. If the Dragons are looking for someone with a new bag of attacking tricks they have hopefully found their man. The reality is Benji will not be able to turn this ship around unless they find a way to dominate the advantage line in attack and defend it in defence. The Bulldogs gave them a lesson in both.