Bulldogs v Eels preview - 2017 Round 22

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Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Parramatta Eels Thursday 7:50pm at ANZ Stadium

The Times They Are A-Changin' for Des...

In a week where the NRL celebrates nostalgia, Bulldogs coach Des Hasler could do well to heed the aged wisdom of Bob Dylan:

"Your old road is rapidly agin' / Please get out of the new one if you can't lend a hand"

For the best part of two years, the Bulldogs have been on a downward slide. Lacking an attacking purpose that remains rooted in a forward dominated style, the Blue and Whites are seemingly at rock bottom having missed the finals for the first time since the former Manly mentor took charge in 2012. To say that Hasler is incapable of getting the best results out of his sides is reductive if not downright fallacious. Since taking over as Manly coach in 2004, he has overseen five grand final appearances including two premiership wins. This will be just the second time he has missed the finals, the first being his rookie season. His ability is not up for debate, rather the structures he has instilled in the Bulldogs in recent times.

When Hasler moved to Canterbury in the aftermath of the Sea Eagles 2011 premiership triumph, he developed an attacking style that saw front rowers James Graham and Sam Kasiano command primary ball playing responsibility. Somewhat revolutionary at the time, the attack used by the Bulldogs was also enhanced by the games premier attacking player Ben Barba performing at his career best. Fast forward five years and the same attack that was such a novelty in 2012 is recognised by all opponents, while also being executed with considerably less success given the absence of any player possessing a modicum of Barba's inherent skill.

Despite holding lucrative multi-year contracts, chief playmakers Moses Mbye and William Hopoate remain largely sidelined when in possession of the ball. Statistically Hopoate ranks among the best fullbacks for metres gained, but his lack of ball support renders the Canterbury attack to five hit ups (usually taken by Aiden Tolman and James Graham) before pinning their hopes on a last tackle play. For Canterbury to succeed they have to be willing to allow their halves to control the game.

With their season winding down with little motivation to glean, the Bulldogs have the perfect opportunity to move away from the uninspired malaise that has resulted in a mere two wins since the representative weekend in May. If Des Hasler allows his players to be free of structured set plays that are devoid of genuine threat for the majority of opposition teams, the Bulldogs are capable of proving a thorn in the side of finals bound teams.

Des Hasler can be the answer for Canterbury, but he has to be willing to adapt to the changing NRL landscape.

The main issue facing the Bulldogs is that they face a Parramatta side producing their best football in over a decade.

After outlasting the Tigers in a below-standard performance, the season-ending injury to Clinton Gutherson could well have ended the Eels chances of threatening the premiership elite. Yet despite the absence of their most consistent player, the Blue and Gold's stood up to deliver their finest showing of 2017 to all but secure their first appearance in September since the ‘Hayne Train' inspired 2009 charge.

Fighting back from an early deficit to hold the Broncos tryless for 70 minutes, the Eels look to have struck the perfect balance of youth and experience with the likes of Bevan French and Mitchell Moses supported by season campaigners Tim Mannah and Michael Jennings. Holding strong form over their historical rivals with three wins from their past three clashes, including a golden point triumph earlier this season, the Eels loom as the dark horses of the NRL with a relatively soft run leading into the playoffs.

Last meeting: Round 17 2017 - Eels 13 Bulldogs 12

Who to watch: In a season which has yielded few positives for the Bulldogs, one of the exceptions has been the emergence of Matt Frawley. Debuting back in Round 5, the 22-year-old provided a spark that looked to reshape the way the Bulldogs attacked, but with the side unwilling to adapt after a steady decline the Blue and Whites will be hopeful Frawley can thrive with fewer restrictions placed upon him given the absence of consequences in the final five matches. Vying off against Moses Mbye and Cronulla utility Fa'amanu Brown to partner Kieran Foran in the halves next season, look for Frawley to finish his rookie season on a high note.

While the acquisition of Mitchell Moses has turned the Eels from a side on the rise to a genuine threat, the unsung hero for the Blue and Gold's in 2017 has been lock Nathan Brown. Signed from South Sydney as a fiery prop with aggressive tendencies that made him a liability, the 24-year-old has grown out of sight under Brad Arthur, making a mark with his actions on the field rather than creating headlines for moments of madness. Averaging 150 metres per game, the City representative has increased his workrate in recent weeks with a double century of metres in four of his past five appearances. Signed for a pittance given his impact this season, look for Brown to revel in his positional duel with David Klemmer and press his claims for higher honours in years to come.

The favourite: Having fought until the final minutes to topple Brisbane, Parramatta is expected to have little trouble taking out a Bulldogs outfit lacking any attacking bite.

My tip: The Eels have the opportunity to make a statement on Thursday night with a dominant performance against a Bulldogs side that will retrospectively look at 2017 as a season of little consequence. Eels by 24.

1. William Hopoate 2. Brett Morris 3. Josh Morris 23. Brenko Lee 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Josh Reynolds 4. Chase Stanley 8. Aiden Tolman 9. Moses Mbye 10. James Graham 11. Josh Jackson 12. Adam Elliot 13. David Klemmer 7. Matt Frawley 14. Sam Kasiano 15. Raymond Faitala-Mariner 16. Danny Fualalo

1. Bevan French 2. Semi Radradra 3. Michael Jennings 4. Brad Takairangi 5. Kirisome Auva'a 6. Corey Norman 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Siosaia Vave 9. Cameron King 10. Tim Mannah 11. Manu Ma'u 15. Kenny Edwards 13. Nathan Brown 14. Daniel Alvaro 16. Suaia Matagi 17. Peni Terepo 20. Frank Pritchard

Referees: Grant Atkins, Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials: Belinda Sleeman, Nick Beashel; Video Referees: Luke Patten, Bernard Sutton;

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