Bulldogs v Dragons: Five Key Points
Having dominated for the majority of proceedings the Bulldogs emerged 11-10 golden point winners over a desperate St George Illawarra Dragons which left Gareth Widdop in tears at full-time and many wondering how Des Hasler's men will continue on without the guidance of halfback Trent Hodkinson.
Halves puzzle still unsolved for Bulldogs
Taking nothing away from the Bulldogs' win, particularly as they made more tackles and fewer metres than their opponents, but it remains to be seen which half is going to stand up and steer the ship moving forward.
Moses Mbye was hardly spotted while a frantic Josh Reynolds struggled on his mission to balance his energy and directing the team – despite hitting the match-winning field goal in the 84th minute.
Much like their next opponents the Roosters in Friday's 20-18 loss to the Storm minus halfback Mitchell Pearce, the Bulldogs were flat and lacked the necessary kicking game to be threatening without regular No.7 Hodkinson.
But Bulldogs coach Des Hasler argued Reynolds got the job done when it mattered.
"He [Reynolds] came up with some key plays, some pressure plays," Hasler said. "Though right across the board I think we can improve a bit, particularly with the ball."
Widdop's 40/20 attempt the right option, gone wrong
After coming up with two clutch conversions to send the game to enter extra time, Gareth Widdop unfortunately became the man to give the Bulldogs their match-winning opportunity.
With the game on the line and the Red V trapped inside their own half, Widdop's valid attempt at a 40/20 kick – with Bulldogs winger Sam Perrett up in the defensive line – ended up sailing over the sideline on the full, gifting the Dogs possession within striking distance. Four tackles later Reynolds slotted the field goal that ended the game.
"His decision to go for the 40/20 was the right one," Dragons coach Paul McGregor said. "The winger was up and it just went a couple of yards too long."
The first thing Bulldogs captain James Graham did following Reynolds' field goal was to commiserate with fellow Englishman Widdop, in a great show of sportsmanship.
"I never really like to see a team lose in extra time," Graham said. "While I was happy we got the win Gaz is a mate of mine so I was just seeing if he was all right like."
Completions highlight Dragons' blown opportunities
After completing their first 14 sets and finishing the first half with a 91 per cent success rate, the Dragons more than enough attacking opportunities in good territory.
McGregor lamented his side's miscues in attack but said injuries played a part in disrupting St George Illawarra's attacking game.
"We had two tries disallowed in the first 10 minutes after half-time and obviously Benji going off restructured the side. Joel Thompson went on for 10 minutes and he went off with his hamstring which he carried in," McGregor said.
"We were down to one on the bench in the end because Georgey [Rose] has a torn bicep and he's been playing with it for weeks. We have blokes in there who are playing busted and playing with needles for months but nobody sees that from the outside."
Dumb penalties the Bulldogs' kryptonite
While their 10 penalties conceded wasn't the worst showing of ill-discipline by a team this season, the Bulldogs almost handed their opponents the game at crucial times.
Whether it was Perrett taking out an airborne Eto Nabuli, Shaun Lane's offside carry from a Dragons short kick-off or Frank Pritchard and Sam Kasiano's unnecessary shot on a grounded Widdop, the Bulldogs will have to shape up this week if they are to be a chance against the Roosters.
Marshall's Kiwi redemption over before it began
Benji Marshall looked all but booked to head to England with the New Zealand team for their end-of-season tour but after limping off with an apparent syndesmosis injury, his national team hopes are now in disarray.
With incumbent Kiwis halfback Shaun Johnson out long-term with a broken leg, Marshall had been shaping up to end his three-year international exodus.
"He will potentially need an operation but at the moment that's the furthest from his mind," McGregor said. "He'll relax for a couple of days and work it out in the middle of next week I reckon."
This article first appeared on NRL.com