|Match Date||25th Feb, 2001|
|Venue||Canberra (Bruce Stadium)|
"How about that last try by Darren Britt - he showed plenty of pace!" came the hidden voice from the side of the media conference room at Bruce Stadium yesterday.
Bulldogs coach Steve Folkes and his captain, Steve Price, laughed. Their largely unheralded team had just continued its ambush of the National Rugby League, following up an away win over Melbourne with an even more impressive away success, 28-18 against the Raiders.
Daring attack, determined defence, youthful exuberance and aged experience had been seen as the Belmore side turned back the clock - for some of their faithful, anyway - some 20 years.
"It's the best we've played in five years," was the more cautious assessment of club chief executive Bob Hagan.
Nevertheless, Darren Britt, the big 31-year-old Test prop, had not shown any pace.
After attempting to get in position for a field goal at 24-12 in the loth minute, the Bulldogs kept the ball alive, as they had all after-noon. New winger Brett Howland got possession on the left flank and found Britt loitering there.
Britt took-the pass a metre or so from the whitewash and sort of, well, fell over the tryline for the 12th try of his long career.
"We like to run our pacey men at the edges," Folkes joked.
But that was the message from yesterday's events at Bruce: Britt was out there, in the 70th minute, alongside men to years his junior, under the limited interchange.
Age would divide players under the rule, it was predicted Folkes, though, took another view.
"Limited interchange has given rugby league back to the footballers and taken it away from the athletes," he said.
"It encourages you to play football rather than just belt the ball up over and over again. Skill is what the game's been about for almost 100 years. It will create more footballers as the players get used to the rules."
Yesterday, Canberra's footballers led Folkes's 12-6 at half-time.
Yet in the second half, the Raiders went down like flies and coach Mal Meninga had to be frugal with his replacements to make sure he had some up his sleeve for the closing stages.
The Bulldogs dominated possession without ever becoming boring, fatigue set in like creeping death in the Canberra camp and they made mistakes, like passing the ball from a scrum onto the ground in their own in goal and knocking on from a tap.
The Bulldogs, their fitness honed by tough trainer Billy Johnstone during the summer, overhauled, then ran away from their opposition.
Sure, a pass from boom-replacement Braith Anasta to Tongan giant Wille Mason before Howland's 43rd-minute try may have been forward.
And the bounce of the ball, which allowed lock Travis Norton to beat Canberra fullback Clinton Schifcofske, regather his own kick and put Anasta away for his try three minutes later, was unusually horrible.
Nonetheless, the Bulldogs deserved to win. Five-eighth Brent Sherwin, Mason and Anasta were impressive, Howland's chase on giant opposite Lesley Vainikolo in the 62nd minute may have been match-winning and some of their passing was almost magical.
The unlimited interchange seems to suit the tough, spirit-laden Dogs. Yet Meninga said: "I'm not going to use that as an excuse. The players have got to get used to it ... getting off the ground and giving that little bit more.
"You try to work to a routine but it is difficult when guys get injured or they're not playing well. You're flying blind a bit with the interchange, but from a coaching point of view it's good, because the decisions you make are more important."
Many observers will point to two of the fastest players in the competition, Bulldog recruits Nigel Vagana and Brett Howland, as the difference between 2000 and 2001 for the Belmore team.
However, Folkes said: "It's the attitude. Last year, we had - not a bad attitude - but not the attitude necessary to win week in, week out. We had a great off-season. The players now realise what's expected of them in just about every situation."
These young Bulldogs - the Masons and Anastas and Sherwins - are doing what was expected of them sooner or later. Britt and second-rower Darren Smith, who at 32 was unstoppable yesterday, are doing what was expected of them years ago. "
I get frustrated when people start talking about age," said Smith afterwards, his point proved. "Britty's the Australian prop and I'm trying to make State of Origin this year."
The man who suggested at the media conference that Britt was a speed demon didn't mention Darren Smith.
But you wouldn't expect him to, since when he popped his face inside the door it was that of Britt himself.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
|Hazem El Masri||Wing||0||4||0||8|
|Brent Sherwin||Five Eighth||1||0||0||4|
|Craig Polla-Mounter||Half Back||0||0||0||0|
|Dennis Scott||Second Row||0||0||0||0|
|Darren Smith||Second Row||0||0||0||0|
|Darren Britt||Front Row||1||0||0||4|
|Steve Price||Front Row||0||0||0||0|