'Woeful' Bulldogs cop scathing criticism after NRL 'reality check'
Several key signings and a new coach weren't able to gel for the Bulldogs in round one.
A series of high-profile signings and an off-field overhaul for the Canterbury Bulldogs wasn't enough to yield short-term results in round one, with their 31-6 loss to Manly resulting in heavy criticism of their effort on both ends of the ground. The comprehensive NRL loss, described as a 'reality check', was far from the kind of revitalised performance fans would have hoped to see.
The Bulldogs have been engaging in a slow and steady accumulation of talent, having recruited the likes of Josh Addo-Carr and Matt Burton, before adding further talent for their 2023 campaign headlined by the likes of Reed Mahoney and Viliame Kikau. In his first season as coach, Cameron Ciraldo issued a round one ultimatum to his players that a repeat performance would be 'unacceptable'.
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The Bulldogs undoubtedly need time to come together, with a new coach, three high-profile recruits as well as a number of NRL debutants playing against the Sea Eagles. Nevertheless, it was a performance far below the standard many expected of the Bulldogs heading into the season.
Ciraldo came to the defence of Matt Burton, after the star five-eighth had an uncharacteristically poor night, causing several key errors. Daily Telegraph writer David Riccio said their round one performance had been a massive let-down after significant interest in the club's progress off-season.
“It certainly was a reality check. They were woeful in the most schoolboy of errors," he said. “It was almost a case of stage fright; kicks out on the full, Viliame Kikau kicking on the fifth tackle, they looked short of a run and I felt like that was their trial match. They were blowing their cobwebs out and everything was off kilter.”
The Bulldogs' one try came when hooker Reed Mahoney collected his own grubber kick off the posts and was ruled to have got the ball to ground without dropping it.
While Riccio conceded the Bulldogs would need more time to get fully to grips with their new personnel, it was Bulldogs veteran Burton who was focused on despite Ciraldo's earlier defence. Greg Alexander seized on an awkward moment in which the ball was in Kikau's hands, resulting in a rushed kick soaring out of bounds.
While not an overly significant moment in the context of the season, Alexander said it was crucial that the likes of Burton stepped up, particularly in the early rounds. He also said Burton's performance had been in stark contrast to the impressive display from Manly counterpart Daly Cherry-Evans.
“If Cherry-Evans was a nine out of ten, Matt Burton gets a two out of ten,” Alexander said. “Why did Viliame get the ball? Why did Viliame have the ball on play five? That’s the bigger question.”
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While it was hardly the start Ciraldo would have wanted, the rookie head coach was hardly at panic stations after the match. Though he conceded it had been an ugly display, he was confident there was a clear pathway to improve.
“We lacked cohesion at times around that area and around a lot of other areas as well,” he said. “We’re a new team, we had three debutants today and five guys making their club debut.
“We’re going to get better every week but today there were some things that we didn’t do well and are unacceptable for us moving forward.”
Tom Trbojevic scored a try and had a hand in two others as Manly dominated the game at 4 Pines Park in his first appearance since dislocating his shoulder last May. Cherry-Evans bagged the first hat-trick of his career with a last-minute intercept and late field goal, benefiting from Manly dominating the inexperienced Bulldogs pack.
But eyebrows were raised when Trbojevic opted against breaking into full flight when put into space during the second half, before later leaving the field with 15 minutes left. Trbojevic suffered his fifth hamstring setback in five years during the pre-season, prompting a $50,000 trip to the USA to try and remedy the situation.
"My calf was cramping up a bit, but I can definitely open up," Trbojevic said after the game. "It's hard to prepare to play footy again, I haven't played for 10 months. It's hot out there, and that just happens. There's no issue.
"It was a very nervous week, (after) not playing for a while. I just wanted to get back out there."
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