Des Hasler warns Canterbury’s top-four hopes face extinction unless they can counter the brilliance of Johnathan Thurston.
The Bulldogs face the premiers at Belmore Sports Ground on Thursday night in a clash that looks set to decide who snares fourth place.
Still stinging from their last encounter five weeks ago, when Thurston produced a masterclass to put the Bulldogs to the sword 36-0, Hasler admits his side haven’t been up to scratch since.
In that game, Thurston did what he does best – turn the screws. After forcing five first-half line dropouts, he didn’t give the Dogs an inch and suffocated them out of the game.
“It’s well documented how important (Thurston) is to that Cowboys side but, gee, he’s got some good helpers around him now,” Hasler said.
“You need to be on your game for 80 minutes against a side like the Cowboys and, for the last month, we haven’t been on our game.”
And therein lies the quandary of the Bulldogs for the last month and a bit.
While fourth and seemingly neck deep in the title hunt, they’ve failed to impress, with the whips cracking after some fundamental lapses in ball control – something they’ve done so well all year.
Hasler admits their completion rate makes for dry reading but it goes to the heart of why they’re not setting the world on fire when they should be building.
All year, they’ve completed at 77 per cent but, in last week’s loss to Brisbane, they managed just 29 of 44 sets – 65 per cent.
“The data and the stats can be quite boring but, at the same time, they can be quite poignant,” Hasler said.
“We completed 11 out of 20 in that second half and, against a side like the Broncos, they’re some of the sides we’re going to be coming up against over the next couple of weeks. You can’t do it – we just have to get our heads around it.”
The Bulldogs will be without prop Sam Kasiano after electing not to fight his dangerous-contact charge for a kick to Corey Parker’s head.
The Cowboys’ pack will be boosted with Queensland and Australian front-rower Matt Scott back from a back injury.
STATS THAT MATTER:
* Canterbury have won three of the past four, and seven of their past nine matches
* Canterbury return to their traditional home ground in what will be their 553rd match at Belmore
* The Cowboys have won 10 of 11 matches at home this season but just three of 11 away
Source: Fox Sports Stats