The saying goes you can’t teach an old dog new tricks — well after Sunday’s game between the Canterbury Bulldogs and Melbourne Storm it appears you could extend that maxim to the use of tactics too.
Coach Dean Pay and his Bulldogs were always underdogs (sorry to labour the pun) up against it on Sunday playing the clinical Storm.
But Pay’s stubborn refusal to alter the game plan — or his team’s inability to improvise — gave the Bulldogs almost no hope of winning.
Melbourne are a very very good team, but they do have a weakness and it is their right side defence.
The left edge has barely been beaten all season with Cameron Munster, Will Chambers and Josh Addo-Carr working together beautifully.R
The centre is stout thanks to Cam Smith marshalling his brigade of WWE enforcers with aplomb.
The right side however, that’s where you want to attack, as that is the side filled by Brodie Croft, a rotating cast of centres and Suliasi Vunivalu, a winger with almost as many inexplicable errors in his game as he does moments of supreme athleticism — and four times as many missed tackles as Addo-Carr.
You might think attacking the Storm right side would work for the Bulldogs too as Canterbury’s left is controlled by veteran playmaker Kieran Foran, the same Foran who cut the Titans to shreds just last week with three try assists.
Running off Foran’s shoulder is 2019 recruit and offload maniac Corey Harawira-Naera. Give them the ball and let them attack!
But no; Dean Pay’s playbook instead saw the Bulldogs play right again, and again and again — with Jack Cogger having almost twice the number of ball receipts as Foran.
Canterbury’s last tackle options consisted of Jack Cogger on the right putting up a kick not quite high enough to be a bomb and not quite deep enough to pin the Storm back. The kick was inevitably fielded comfortably by either Storm fullback Jahrome Hughes or winger Addo-Carr.
The play was so predictable that by the second half Hughes was able to set up camp down in the right corner well ahead of the fifth tackle.
And who could blame him, because from his camp he had the best seat in the house to watch Addo-Carr torch the Bulldogs via kick returns.
You may have heard of Addo-Carr, he’s pretty quick, and has a decent step. The Bulldogs certainly know it now because kicking to him so often allowed the speedster to run for 207 metres and score a solo 70 metre try.
Hamstrung by salary cap woes not of his making, Pay is on somewhat of a hiding to nothing at the Bulldogs.
hhowever, when your game plan boils down to keeping the ball out of the hands of your best attacking player and trying your hardest to put the ball in the hands of the opposition’s best attacking player, the hiding is very much a matter of self-flagellation.