Pressure on Bulldogs and Cowboys to prove offseason overhauls will work

The Wooden Spoons team against last year’s 15th-place finisher isn’t everyone’s idea of ​​the round’s game status, but Canterbury’s clash with the Cowboys is certainly the most intriguing and more important to their respective coaches.

Trent Barrett and Todd Payten enter the 2022 season with huge question marks over their teams.

The Bulldogs come into this game after a multi-million dollar roster overhaul and a horribly poor performance in their Test game against Cronulla.

After a 3-21 record last season, improvement is not expected but required.

At the heart of their many problems is a stagnant attack – the addition of Matt Burton, Josh Addo-Carr, Matt Dufty, Braidon Burns and Brent Naden means only winger Jayden Okunbor and half-back Jake Averillo have survived the back line from last year.

In the lead, Tevita Pangai jnr and Paul Vaughan are the new faces of a peloton that has gone to great lengths but lacked discipline and creativity.

Barrett knows the second season of his three-year contract is crucial to his hopes of being the manager who oversees Canterbury’s return to the premiership and blocks out the noise outside to focus on the only thing that matters: the field results.

“I don’t pay too much attention to it, to be honest. We know that in this job comes pressure and we take that into account,” he said on Friday.

“All we can control is the quality of our preparation and we are looking forward to the challenge of going there on Sunday and having a good season.

“Each of these people who came to the club brought something different, the young players gained a lot of experience over the last year through difficult times.”

“There were some things we needed to sort out, but we expect it to be good this weekend. We definitely want to improve our last two tests. I was happy we took them off the road.

There was a lot to iron out after their 30-6 loss to Cronulla, including Pangai’s lack of discipline that saw him narrowly avoid suspension for a few incidents that caused his sin.

Former Bulldogs hooker Michael Ennis has watched the lawsuits in his role as a Fox League commentator and has been disappointed with what Canterbury have cooked up.

“I think it’s the biggest game of the weekend – seems odd given what we saw in Penrith [on Thursday night] with two of the real contenders getting in on it,” he said.

“I don’t think there has been a poorer team in tryouts than the Bulldogs, the blowtorch has been on them and I know it’s just tryouts but there was no sign of change with their offensively and defensively the Sharks sometimes pulled them apart.

“With the individuals they have on paper, they should be around that sixth to 11th blockage that we see at the end of the seasons. Expectations are high and they should be.

“I think everyone is intrigued to see what the Bulldogs can do. They’ve added plenty of stars who have been good for their previous respective clubs, but Matt Burton is key. We need to see their attack ignite. He won a grand final at center but now has to lead that side to five-eights, so a lot of pressure on the Dogs.

Ennis will reserve judgment on whether Burton’s best halftime partner is Jake Averillo, who has moved from center to playmaker role over the past two seasons.

“I really like Jake Averillo as a ball-running player, if he played five rounds I would have a different perspective,” he said.

“I know it’s just shirt numbers and they’re both in control of the game plan but him as a seven there’s so much pressure on them these days to be able to handle the game but to be creative, to find the right balance between leading the side and running the football.

“He’s a great runner with good footwork but his end of sets in practice hasn’t been good and their attack has looked very predictable and with the way they’re playing Jake doesn’t seem to have the ball. as long as he hasn’t passed the attackers’ hands, so when he gets it he has a rushing defense in his face and his time is wasted.

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Canterbury have managed just 340 points in 2021, 106 fewer than Brisbane’s next-worst team and just six points more than NRL leader manly winger Reuben Garrick racked up for the season.

Barrett received plenty of praise two years ago as assistant coach at Penrith for crafting his attack, but Ennis said Canterbury needed a different system as they don’t have the luxury of a third play option in forwards like the Panthers lock Isaah Yeo.

“Yeo’s ball game compared to some of Canterbury’s midfield forwards, without being disrespectful to the Bulldogs squad, is completely different,” he said.

“You want the ball early, so the Dogs offense needs to change so that Averillo and Burton get the ball earlier, especially in the offensive 30. You want your best creative players to get the ball as soon as possible.”

Pangai’s strength is like a ram in the middle, but Barrett has changed the former Broncos and Penrith powerhouse to second rower with Jack Hetherington.

“The challenge for Tevita is when you look at those games where he dominates, it’s because he rolled up his sleeves and did his job for the team,” Ennis said.

“He’s effective because he came into direct contact, not thinking he has to do something creative or make something. He ran hard and with his sheer power and strength he was able to create an offload or a line break or even a try at the back of that mindset.

“Unfortunately there was always a danger that he felt as if he had to make a difference and didn’t have to. When he went to Penrith, Ivan Cleary made it clear that he was just there to play his part for the team and he did.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 28: Matt Burton of Bulldogs is tackled by Nicho Hynes of Sharks during the NRL Test match between Cronulla Sharks and Canterbury Bulldogs at PointsBet Stadium on February 28, 2022 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Matt Burton. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

“When you look at the first 20 minutes of that preliminary final against Melbourne last year, he was the best player on the pitch. He kept it simple, ran hard with controlled aggression and he won the battle against England. one of the best attacking packs in the competition.

“Sitting on an edge for the Bulldogs, I’m afraid he thinks he should be a creative back-rower when he’s not. He should just come out the back fence and put a dent in the opposing half every time he has the ball, scaring him.

“Get the halves to move the ball early to Tevita and isolate it on the three outside defenders, especially in terms of distance, making sure they feel the weight of one of the most powerful athletes in our game. But we didn’t see that in testing.

The NRL announced its judicial overhaul on Thursday which means repeat offenders with bad backgrounds will not be punished as harshly, which Barrett applauded as it will help players like Pangai, Hetherington and Luke Thompson.

“I think it’s a good thing. We have already discussed the loadout, its drawbacks and we have a few players on our side that it has affected,” he said. “A minor mistake resulted in a week or two on the sidelines. The game is no longer dirty.

Jason Taumalolo

Jason Taumalolo (Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

For the Cowboys, the Round 1 rumble with the Bulldogs is a chance for Payten to show that the changes he made in the offseason will pay off. He’s also under contract until the end of next year and the shine of his time with the Warriors is starting to fade as the losses pile up in the tropics.

Leading forward Jason Taumalolo is fit again and the Cowboys plan to return to giving him big minutes after last year’s experience to use him in shorter bursts that backfired.

Payten relied on Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow for the crucial full-back role, slotting Valentine Holmes through the middle in a move that appeared to pay off in their decisive victory against Brisbane.

The addition of Chad Townsend at halfback gives them a much-needed general on the pitch, but Payten surprised by choosing Tom Dearden five eighths ahead of Scott Drinkwater, who was probably their best player in 2021.

“The Cowboys were poor last year, especially defensively and Jason Taumalolo’s declining form,” Ennis said.

“Valentin Holmes moved from full-back to wing last year and now he’s playing in the center and he’s the man of the mark. Chad Townsend came to the club, Tom Dearden plays five rounds but not Scott Drinkwater who had the most tries last year.

“A lot of changes so I’m really interested to see how they react after another pre-season under Todd Payten, so a lot of pressure on them before a ball is kicked.”

It’s not the showpiece of the round, but the final game of weekend one has a lot at stake for two teams with a lot at stake in 2022.

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