Crikey Sports introduces Pat Byrne, project manager and sports fan who, in conjunction with Crikey Sports, will be publishing a weekly column where he thinks outside the square in bringing you the game of the week as he sees it … in a box…

Pat Byrne, blogger and “Game-in-a-box” creator writes:

These two teams met on Sunday 10th April 2011 during Round 5. The St George Illawarra Dragons came out on top of the Canterbury Bulldogs 25 to 6 with a dominant display. It will be useful to compare the two games.

For this game, the Dragons were coming off a good win against the North Queensland Cowboys in Round 9 and a huge win against the Parramatta Eels in Round 8. The Bulldogs were coming off a bye in Round 9 and a loss to the Brisbane Broncos in Round 8.

The Dragons were also backing up substantially from a hectic couple of weeks with big representation in the Australian Kangaroos side and the NSW Origin trial game of City Versus Country. So they should be the more fatigued and the Bulldogs should be the more hungry!

The term “arm wrestle” is often used in the footy game language to describe a close and hard struggle between opposing teams to gain some sort of dominance. This game REALLY was an arm wrestle at the start, with the Dragons ever so slowly gaining the upper hand.  First with a penalty for two points in the 9th minute and then a converted try in the 19th minute where they started to exert their dominance.

That first try was a very very interesting one.  Soward (the new NSW Blues 5/8 by the way) put the ball up from 15m out from slightly left of the posts to the far right. It got knocked back by the Dragons to Scott. Scott tried to get over but had his progress stopped. Now that is the key … his tackle looked completed to me. But he leant back and held the ball over his head (he was facing the tryline).

Prior took the ball, which means Scott basically “handed” it to Prior who goes over pretty easily. The video ref gave it. To me it looked very much like a “lay back” that occurs in Rugby Union without it going to the ground. You can get away with it Rugby Union but not Rugby League. It was quite unusual and perhaps a pretty close call for the video ref either way. Nonetheless, the Dragons were on the board with a try and it was 8 to nil.

The Dragons scored another one about six minutes later. This time with no controversy! They decide to run it on the 5th tackle and passing left, they get 4 Dragons on 3 Bulldogs out wide. They didn’t use that though as they were getting squeezed against the sideline, but there was enough doubt in the defenders for Cooper to step inside and go over out on the far left.

The Dragons were up 14 to nil and really dominated for the last 15 minutes of the first half. But to the Bulldogs credit, the Dragons couldn’t capitalise on that dominance. Their only reward was a field goal to Soward when the Dragons got a penalty on the hooter. They were too far out to kick a penalty so they went for the line. The pass went from the tap to Soward who popped over the drop goal. That made it 15-0 going into the break.

The Dragons dominated this first half by 22.75% which is a real dominant performance. But they were only up 15 to nil which meant the Bulldogs were still in with a chance for the second half … and they knew it.

They came out fired up and scored a try in the 43rd minute. From inside their own 20 metres, Keating got the ball from a wonderful round the corner pass. He got away from the pursuing Dragons and found Lett going through those same chasing Dragons. Letts has plenty of pace and he skipped away to score near the left post. They couldn’t convert it but the Bulldogs were back into the game!

About 15 minutes later and the Bulldogs kicked from about 35 metres out and in the centre of the paddock. It goes right. Idris jumped for it and knocked it back to Turner who in turn gets it to Hodkinson who is in the clear and runs around to put it under the posts.  It’s converted and the Bulldogs are definitely back in the game now.

As you can see, they are also on top but only precariously in many ways. And that dominance starts to leak toward the Dragons but nonetheless the Dragons are worried. Soward goes for a looooong field goal in the 65th minute, but misses. He tries it again in the 68th minute and misses again. The Bulldogs are on top, not scoring and making the Dragons a wee bit nervous. But slowly slowly, the Dragons turn the screws again with some wonderful defence.

The Bulldogs don’t score again and even though they win the second half 10 points to nil, and dominate slightly, the scores end up 15 – 10 to the Dragons.

The Dragons dominated overall by 9.50% and the scores actually reflected that. It was a wonderful game but you could see the Dragons were tired and the Bulldogs are going to give the ladder a real shake this year.  Lots of intent and lots of talent. Just not quite as good as the Dragons … yet.

This game though is a really interesting one to compare with their first meet up in Round 5. It was a very similar game with a very similar pattern. But that earlier game, the Dragons ran away with it and the Bulldogs couldn’t get substantially back in to it. The Game-in-a-Box for that game is below. You can see the similarity in the tempo where the Dragons dominated early, the Bulldogs came back in the second half but the Dragons finished over the top.

I have superimposed the tempo and the tries over each other with the Bulldogs at the bottom and the Dragons at the top. Their total scores, tackles and overall possession is also included as well as the dominance percentage.

You can see how, in the first half, the best the Bulldogs could do was in fact mostly to be dominated by the Dragons. The Bulldogs didn’t score a try in the first half at all. Another observation I would make is that the Bulldogs try to make a comeback in the second half but don’t have the ability to squeeze the Dragons like the Dragons do them. So much so, that although the Bulldogs dominate from around the 60th minute, that trend is towards the Dragons dominating until that Tempo line goes into the Dragons side. The Dragons finish over the top of them. The “green” average Tempo line is really indicative of this trend.

So, this last game was perhaps a very good indicator of a tired but more talented Dragons outfit winning over a hungry but slightly less talented and perhaps less drilled, Bulldogs. But a wonderful game … expect them to meet again in the finals!