Let’s face facts. The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs’ attacking weapons are blunt and have been so for some time.
After 15 matches of the 2020 season, the blue and whites have managed a paltry 202 points at an average of 13.46 per game. Such a number will win few NRL matches.
In contrast, their opponents have managed 362 points; at just over 24 points per game, with the Bulldogs’ defence competing well and keeping them in the contest in most.
It has been a consistent theme for the men from Belmore across the last few seasons. Impotent in attack, the majority of their late season wins have come off the back of gallant defence and high completions.
Those statistics sometimes produce a win through nothing more than the sheer weight of numbers and pressure, rather than any explosive moments of skill in attack that take the game away from the opposition.
The chasm between the competition heavyweights and the club once ironically known as “the entertainers” in the early 1980’s is vast and its origins lie in the simple fact that the club has not had the creativity and intuition required in the halves since the departure of Brent Sherwin in 2007.
The Greenacre born local junior half-back played 191 times for the blue and white, scoring and setting up a host of tries, kicking cleverly and proving a dangerous prospect for any opposition defence.
When the game anoints you with the nickname of ‘shifty’, it is quite clear that guile and skill are your best attributes and not power or brute force. Such was the career of Sherwin, a quality half who represented City on three occasions.
Brilliantly angled cross-field kicks for Hazem El-Masri, cheeky drop outs that found the sideline and a subtle slight of hand with his passing game all made Sherwin one of the best halves of his era. It also enunciates why the club has struggled since his departure.
There was an heir apparent in the early 2000’s in the form of Johnathan Thurston, yet the powers at be thought differently and since, the attacking prowess of the Bulldogs has never been of premiership winning quality.
Only a brief moment where an ageing Brett Kimmorley took control in 2009/10 saw hope restored in the kennel, yet that too soon passed thanks to injury and misfortune.
There were grand finals in 2012 and 2014; something of a brilliant achievement considering the conservative and safe game plan that then coach Des Hasler had the team implementing, yet without sheer class in the halves and up against some of the best 6’s, 7’s in the competition, the Bulldogs were destined to become nothing more than valiant runners-up.
After Hasler, his successor Dean Pay shuffled around the men at his disposal on a week to week basis. When Kieran Foran was not injured, he generally played. Around him, Lachlan Lewis and Jack Cogger were chopped and changed as the coach sought the magic combination that would hopefully elevate the Bulldogs from an NRL also-ran to a serious finals contender.
Pay never achieved that goal. Forwards like Luke Thompson, Dylan Napa, Corey Harawira-Naera and Sauaso Sue were recruited and Nick Meaney, Cogger and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak brought into the backs to improve a squad that had been decimated thanks to poor salary cap management under Hasler and then chair Ray Dib.
The core issue of a weakness in the halves was never solved.
Now, after three years of rebuilding and a supposed ‘war chest’ to spend on quality players, the club has moved decisively with the signing of Raiders winger Nick Cotric; a quality player destined to improve the potency of the Bulldogs out wide.
However, it was the recent announcement of the return to Belmore of former Eels, Sharks, Hull, Wigan, Storm, Sea Eagles and Warriors playmaker Blake Green that raised eyebrows across the rugby league community.
At 33-years-of-age, it does not appear a long term appointment, nor one that invests much hope in any of the halves that the Bulldogs have supposedly been developing over the last three years.
Most pundits felt that Cogger, Lewis and the brilliant Brandon Wakeham would be the future of the club in the halves, yet it now appears faith has been lost in them; the board preferring to replace a departing Foran than trust the plans they have had in place throughout the rebuild under Pay.
To complicate things further, Green recently ruptured his ACL and will miss a significant portion of next season; destined to return as a 34-year-old, sometime in the winter of 2021.
The injury is certainly not the fault of Green nor the club, yet the hap-hazard and seemingly opportunistic approach Canterbury appear to be taking to recruitment will fill few Bulldog fans with hope, as they appear destined to enter yet another season without the leadership and direction they require in the halves.
In essence, the Bulldogs need creativity around the ruck. The kind provided by the great Steve Mortimer, Terry Lamb, Garry Hughes and Brent Sherwin. Without it, the semi-finals will remain well beyond their reach in the near future.