Bulldogs bad boy marched: ‘What’s a send off these days?’
They were once known as the Dogs of War and for decades were regarded as one of the toughest, fiercest and most successful organisations in rugby league.
But those proud and mighty days are now a distant memory and instead Canterbury fans are left to put up with performances that just go from bad to worse by the week.
And it continued in Townsville on Sunday when a controversial Jack Hetherington send off marred an embarrassing 30-18 defeat to North Queensland that keeps the Bulldogs on track for the club's worst start to a season in 57 long years.
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A frustrated Trent Barrett could only look on in frustration and at times disgust as he sat on the sidelines at Queensland Country Bank Stadium and watched his team dish up another performance that for the most part just wasn't up to NRL standard.
Hetherington was sensationally marched after collaring Valentine Holmes with a careless high tackle midway through the second half.
There was a debate on Sunday night as to whether or not Hetherington's high shot was worthy of a send off given some of the inconsistent punishments for other illegal tackles this season.
But regardless it was high and it was dangerous and it is likely to leave Hetherington on the sidelines when the Bulldogs face the Sharks next Saturday.
Although the Bulldogs fought back with two tries while down to 12 men it was simple too little too late, as they finished the round the only team winless after six matches.
Hetherington has an awful judiciary record and missed four matches last year for a high tackle on Manly's Martin Taupau while he was playing for the Warriors.
It's the last thing Barrett would want to deal with as he struggles to find a way out of a world of rugby league hurt.
The Cowboys went into the round second last on the NRL ladder so Bulldogs fans are entitled to be wondering how this team will even get a win this season.
The Roosters were the last team to go winless through an entire season and that was all the way back in 1966.
Canterbury went winless from their opening seven games in 1964 before they scored a draw. Their first and only win that season was in round 14.
The Dogs now have the Sharks, Eels and Raiders in their next three games.
It must be taken into account that the Cowboys are playing without Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo.
Bulldogs fans have every right to be filthy.
Some of the silly schoolboy errors the players came up with were just embarrassing, while the lack of patience and ability to build pressure at vital times was horrendous.
So unlucky for Jack Hetherington that his name isn’t Latrell Mitchell.— Brenden (@brendenfingers) April 18, 2021
Pretty much from a first set turnover after a clumsy mix up between Renouf Atoni and Jake Averillo it was obvious they were again going to struggle.
And there was a classic case in point of their lack of direction around the 50th minute when they were trailing 12-6 and had a set near the Cowboys line.
After bumbling their way through the set with next to no direction it was left to Atoni to run the ball on the last play with Kyle Flanagan watching on as another opportunity amounted to nothing.
Barrett would have been furious with the performance of his halves.
To their credit the Bulldogs fired up after the Hetherington send off but they just couldn't close the deal.
The fact of the matter is they don't have the talent to match the better teams.
But surely their fans at least deserve better energy, intent and discipline for the full 80 minutes.
FULL MATCH REPORT
- Matthew Elkington
Jack Hetherington's hot head became explosive at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, leaving the Bulldogs at the mercy of the Cowboys and igniting a stale clash between the two spoon contenders.
The visitors were left a man down for the final quarter of the game after he levelled Cowboys fullback Valentine Holmes with a careless swinging arm in the 30-18 loss.
It was an ugly incident which left Holmes visibly shaken on the ground, and referee Ashley Klein wasted little time before pointing the way to the dressing rooms.
Hetherington, who had earlier laid on the Bulldogs first try with an impressive offload, became the first player sent from the field this season and the first time it was used since Sharks halfback Chad Townsend was sent off in Round 17 last season for a late shot on Kalyn Ponga.
But the move appeared to inspire the Bulldogs, who landed two direct blows and appeared to be coming over the top of the Cowboys in the dying stages.
But it would prove a bridge too far for the visitors which Mitch Dunn slicing his way to the line on a solo effort in the final minutes to lock in the win.
For a winning coach, Todd Payten appeared far from happy of his team's rollercoaster performance.
"That performance just indicates where we are really at as a team. We have moments and patches, but we have some decision making errors that we still need to improve if we are to get any better," Payten said.
"We were fortunate, even though the send-off was the right call, if they have 13 players on the field who knows what happens.
"The message at half time was play through the middle, and when we did that we were effective. When we tried to play around them, it wasn't effective. We have a tendency to get bored with what we are doing.
"I think we are trying hard but I don't think we are being smart enough. We have spoken about playing the game the right way, spending energy to gain energy. We do that in patches and then there are other periods we are not doing it."
One area Payten was impressed with was his bench.
The Cowboys grew an extra leg with the injection of their forwards, including Dunn who came on as a smaller body in the middle of the field and exploited the Bulldogs tired middle forwards.
Molo (163m from 15 carries) and Jensen (118m) both topped the metres for the Cowboys and provided a solid foundation through the middle third.
Rookie backrower Ben Condon, who punched out a 70-minute stint in just his fourth game of NRL, also looked impressive with the ball almost making 100m and scoring another barge over try from five metres out.
"I thought all of our bench was really good. They made a difference to the tempo of the game, they had some good involvements," Payten said.
"Mitch Dunn did really well to play through the middle which is not his best position."
FLANGAN FLEXES MUSCLE
The Roosters might have chosen young gun Sam Walker over him, but Kyle Flangan sent a clear reminder as to why he is one of the more exciting young halves in the game.
The Bulldogs conductor was pulling all the right strings late in the second half to pull his side back into the clash despite being down a man.
Flanagan scored a try under the sticks after refusing to die wondering on a poke through from dummy-half Sione Katoa before backing up with a swift cut-out ball to give the visitors a 2-on-1 overlap before Tuipulotu Katoa crossed in the corner.
But it was too little too late for the Bulldogs who had squandered too many opportunities earlier in the clash to give themselves an advantage.
Winless coach Trent Barrett appeared flat-out frustrated watching on from the sideline, with the silly errors leaving them 0-6 to start the season and appearing a long way off breaking through for that drought-ending victory.
"I was disappointed with a few of our errors. Really, really poor errors. They were individual errors, not really team related,"Barrett said.
"It put us under a hell of a lot of pressure in the end and then made it too hard on ourselves with 12 men in the end there.
"One of the positives you can take out of it, they were gallant (at the end). But we shouldn't have been in that position. We turned over too much cheap ball and failure to build any pressure at all when we were in the game at 6-6 at half time."
It won't get any easier for the Bulldogs next week heading to Sydney's south to face the Sharks, while the Cowboys will remain in Townsville another week to host the Raiders in what is becoming an annual Anzac weekend tradition in the garrison city.
Originally published as Bulldogs bad boy marched: 'What's a send off these days?'