Rugby League

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Slow start comes back to bite the Dogs

CANTERBURY were bitterly disappointed with the way they played in the first half of the grand final, saying they had contributed heavily to their own demise by making too many mistakes.

Bulldogs coach Des Hasler gave "full congratulations" to Melbourne, saying they were "very clinical" in winning, but he couldn't hide his despair at how the Bulldogs had helped them along in the first 40 minutes.

"I think Melbourne got through about 21 sets in the first half, and we got through about nine," Hasler said. "And we contributed a fair bit to our own situation because we were guilty of making a lot of unforced errors. We handed a lot of possession to Melbourne, and they were too clinical in what they did with it.

"We can't afford to give a side like that any extra ball in a grand final. We can't give that much possession away. They had 10 or 11 sets on our tryline in the first half, and that try right on half-time was a tough one to have scored against us. Melbourne, at 14-4 ahead, are very hard to run down."

That try was scored in the 39thminute by Storm winger Justin O'Neill, off a lob kick from halfback Cooper Cronk. It was the last time the scorers were troubled.

Canterbury captain Michael Ennis was equally despondent at the bad first half, saying: "It's disappointing. Part of me is so proud of what we have achieved throughout the year, but we knew we had to start well tonight, and we just didn't. Field position is what it's all about, especially at this time of the year.


"I thought we were courageous in the second half, but we probably tried a bit too hard in the first half and came up with too many errors, and that allowed the field position [to Melbourne]."

Hasler and Ennis acknowledged that the 62nd-minute play in which Storm fullback Billy Slater jumped to punch a ball dead that Bulldogs centre Josh Morris was about to collect for a try was critical to the outcome. Morris would have scored next to the posts, and the successful conversion attempt would have cut Melbourne's lead to 14-10.

"We knew what we had to do in the second half," Hasler said. "I thought we gave it every chance in the second half, and I've got to congratulate the Canterbury side. We've had a really good year. We've had a lot of young players coming into the NRL, and this puts the club in very good shape ... it definitely gives us a lot of hope for the future. But, again, full congratulations to Melbourne."

Ennis added: "I can't take anything away from Melbourne, but Des and his staff have done a great job with our team."

Hasler is in the first year of a four-year contract at the Bulldogs, and despite the disappointment the club's fans are entitled to be very optimistic he can take the team to a title during that time.