Canterbury sunk to new depths and narrowly avoided a seven-year low as St George Illawarra scored a much needed and morale-boosting 32-12 Round 9 win on Sunday.
The Bulldogs scored two late tries against the run of play to avoid being the first team since Cronulla in 2014 to go scoreless in four games in a season.
They have failed to score a point three times already this year.
The Dragons were impressive and a recruit pushed his claims for a State of Origin jumper, while some debutants enjoyed maiden NRL tries.
Here are our 3 Big Hits.
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MATCH CENTRE: Dragons vs Bulldogs live updates, score, video
DOGS NO.7 BENCHED IN WOEFUL NEW LOW
Canterbury let Kieran Foran walk out the door and the club hasn’t replaced him with an experienced playmaker in the spine.
Jake Averillo and Kyle Flanagan filled the halves on Sunday and they are both only young still, despite Flanagan playing an entire season with the Roosters last year.
The Chooks let Flanagan leave and we can now understand why, with teenage superstar Sam Walker braining it in his rookie season.
Flanagan, on the other hand, is struggling to improve much at Belmore where he’s the senior playmaker in one of the competition’s worst teams.
The problem is there’s no one more experienced than him at the club to show him the way.
Lachlan Lewis and Brandon Wakeham are the other halves at the Bulldogs but neither of them have done enough to deserve a permanent spot in the side, let alone be tasked with putting the team on their shoulders.
Their attack has been miserable for three or four years now and it’s not improving quickly under coach Trent Barrett, who was Penrith’s attack guru last year.
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At one point during the first half against the Dragons, Flanagan chose to kick to his winger early in the set.
The ball sailed into touch on the full.
“He would have just fallen off his chair, Trent Barrett,” exclaimed league legend Steve Roach on Fox League.
Flanagan was then benched at half time and replaced by Lewis.
Coach Barrett later confirmed Flanagan was hooked due to his poor first half.
“Our execution was poor. Our performance was poor,” Barrett said.
Fox’s sideline reported Matt Russell labelled the Bulldogs attack “stunted”… and that was being kind.
They didn’t score a point in the first half, despite being tackled in the opposition’s 20-metre zone 18 times compared to St George Illawarra’s eight times, for one try.
They have Matt Burton on deck from 2022 but, again, he’s only young and not overly experienced at NRL level.
The club is splashing cash on centres and wingers but a senior halfback wouldn’t go astray.
BIRD BACK IN ORIGIN FORM
It’s been four years since Jack Bird played in State of Origin but NSW coach Brad Fittler should consider ending the drought next month.
The 26-year-old has rediscovered his best football after a few lean seasons hampered by serious injury up at Brisbane.
Since moving home to Wollongong, Bird has been in purple form for the Dragons – the club who let him go to Cronulla as a young star all those years ago.
He won a premiership with the Sharks and played five Origin games for the Blues before injuries looked like ruining his career.
He has been put at left centre by Red V coach Anthony Griffin but he could just as easily jump into the middle of the park and play lock, or in the halves if needed.
His ball skills are elite, his running is strong and he’s aggressive in defence.
His five Origin games were off the bench but he wouldn’t look out of place in the three-quarters for NSW this year.
BRIGHT SIGNS AS DRAGONS FIND ANOTHER PAIR
St George Illawarra produced the NRL’s best identical twins when Josh and Brett Morris came through the club’s ranks in the mid 2000s.
Brett would play a role in the Dragons’ 2010 premiership while Josh unfortunately had to leave the Red V to do his best work, but later found success at the Roosters.
Now the Dragons have another set of twins to excite fans.
Mat Feagai made his NRL debut on Sunday, joining brother Max in the top grade for the first time.
Mat, 20, scored a try thanks to a brilliant cut-out pass from Ben Hunt to the left winger.
He ended up having eight tackle busts and three linebreaks along with his 131 running metres, before he was forced off the field with a knee injury late in the piece.
His brother Max is a few games into his NRL career but is equally talented and he had four tackle busts on the other side of the park against the Bulldogs.
The Dragons showcased another young star on Sunday, too.
Junior Amone came off the bench late in the game to score a try on debut.
He is a playmaker, but the club has hopes of turning him into a ball-playing backrower.
It’s been a rough few years in Wollongong but the future is looking bright.
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