Bulldogs v Broncos: Five Key Points
The Bulldogs monstered a Brisbane side featuring five players backing up from Origin with several more missing, running up a 40-16 win on their home patch with returning winger Brett Morris in sizzling form.
Brett Morris fires like he'd never been away
The Bulldogs' big win was no doubt set up by a massive effort from their forwards but you wouldn't know Test and Origin winger Morris was playing his first game of 2016 after a long-term layoff with a knee injury.
The flying 29-year-old showed no ill effects of the serious injury as his old pace looked to be there right from his first touch as he racked up 146 metres, five tackle breaks and three tries.
"It was great to see him return today; he's worked really hard," Bulldogs coach Des Hasler said after the game.
"I've got to give a huge rap to our rehab team and the medical team, they've performed unbelievably to get him back and you'd think he'd never been away the way he performed today. Was it three he scored? He had a go didn't he? He was great today."
Added Dogs skipper James Graham: "Brett brings a lot of quality to this team. He's an unbelievable try scorer and really that's what you're playing the game for, you need to score more tries than the opposition… Brett Morris knows his way to the try line.
"I'm particularly impressed by I think his second try backing up – that's just pure pace and that's just what he does, that's what he's done for like 10 years now so to have someone like that in the team that can finish off those breaks is pretty handy to have for us."
Broncos lament another Origin back-up
Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett certainly didn't blame the short turnaround five of his key players were going through for the performance but said the current Origin-related workload is just something the club has to deal with.
"We don't have a lot of alternatives (but to weather the storm)," Bennett said.
"The fixture list is there, you've got to play and do the best you can plus the other injuries we've got at the club so we've got five or six top players down here tonight. That's the price you pay but there's no soft option with that it's just the way it is."
He said he was more concerned by the team's attitude in losses to the Wests Tigers in Round 12 and the Warriors in Round 13 than by Saturday night's big margin because of a lack of energy in those efforts.
"We didn't look like we wanted to be there [in those two games] but we wanted to be here tonight and in the end we just didn't man up enough in the second half.
"Canterbury were good, they played accordingly and got momentum and that's what it's all about, getting some momentum."
Dogs win the forward battle
However you cut it, Canterbury's big men were simply awesome and their energy – particularly in the second half – and power through the middle were just more than Brisbane could handle on this occasion.
The numbers don't make for pretty reading. The Dogs made 500 metres more than Brisbane in total. Of the forwards, Canterbury's starting props each made over 200 metres and six of their forwards crossed 100 metres. For Brisbane, only two – Corey Parker and Josh McGuire – edged past the 100 mark. Canterbury's forwards broke 27 tackles compared to four by the Brisbane forwards (these numbers exclude the dummy-halves). And of course there were four tries scored by the Canterbury big men against none for Brisbane.
"They were good… The second half they got plenty of momentum up and got their nose in front and just went from there," lamented Brisbane captain Corey Parker.
Second half blitz takes Brisbane by surprise
The home side were only 10-4 up at half-time and even that courtesy of a slightly fortuitous 38th-minute try. But three Bulldogs tries between the 44th and 57th minutes effectively ended the contest and it was a burst Bennett says he didn't see coming.
"There wasn't much in it first half and second half was just a totally different game," Bennett said.
"We were in the game all the first half. Just second half, maybe it was the half time talk, I don't know."
Asked what he said in that half-time speech, Bennett could afford to have a laugh at himself: "I thought it was pretty good!" he said with a wry smile.
As for what went wrong, he said the fact he had to rest his Origin players at some point was a big factor.
"We lost it in that first 10 minutes after half-time," he said. "What went wrong, I had my top players on the bench and I didn't have any real alternative with that in my view because they're backing up from Origin and I just can't justify myself to absolutely kill them out there and then we've got to back up again on Friday night. It's the price you pay this time of year."
Frustrating debut for Brisbane rookie
With two left-centres in Jack Reed and Jordan Kahu already unavailable through injury, Bennett handed a debut jersey to 21-year-old centre Tom Opacic.
Unfortunately the youngster lasted just 23 minutes before a torn plantar fascia ligament (a ligament under the foot connecting the heel to the toes) put him out of the rest of his debut game and will keep him out for another four to six weeks, according to an early post-game diagnosis from the club.
"He's got a torn fascia in the foot there so he'll be out for four to six weeks," Bennett said.
"Reed won't be back [next week]. Maybe Kahu, I'm not sure… with Tom out that's three of them gone in that left centre position so we're getting a bit scratchy there."
Opacic had looked comfortable in his first 23 minutes of NRL footy, with seven tackles and 30 running metres and no errors or missed tackles but will have to wait a while for his next crack.