Barrett came to the Bulldogs as the attack whisperer. He needs to start shouting
- March 31, 2021 10:55am
- by ANDREW JACKSON
- Source: FOX SPORTS
Back in July last year, the consensus across the NRL was clear - Trent Barrett was the answer to revamp the worst attack in NRL history and restore pride at Belmore.
Once a disjointed and impatient inside the opposition red zone, the Penrith Panthers went from averaging 17 points per game to over 26 within the space of a year.
“It’s got his [Barrett’s] fingerprints all over it,” Manly utility Lachlan Croker declared in July last season. He was not the only one who could clearly see the impact Barrett was having as Panthers attacking coach.
“He caters to the whole team and I think that’s probably what he’s good at - working to the team’s strengths,” then Panthers captain James Tamou added at the time.
With Kyle Flanagan, Nick Cotric and Corey Allan brought to Belmore and Matt Burton soon to follow them, the hope was Barrett would have the tools to make an immediate impact. Three rounds into Barrett’s reigns, however, and the enormity of the task has become clear.
The Bulldogs have managed just 16 points and, with a 24-0 loss to the Broncos became the first side in the club’s history to be held scoreless in consecutive weeks.
A look at the numbers over the opening rounds does not make for pretty reading.
BULLDOGS ATTACKING BREAKDOWN - 2020 vs 2021 (RANK)
POINTS: 14.1 (15th) vs 5.3 (16th)
TRIES: 2.5 (15th) vs 1 (16th)
LINEBREAKS: 3.2 (16th) vs 2.7 (16th)
TACKLE BREAKS: 17.6 (16th) vs 19.3 (16th)
RUN METRES: 1397 (12th) vs 1260 (16th)
TACKLES NEEDED IN OPP. 20 FOR A TRY: 16.7 (16th) vs 20 (15th)
For Fox League’s Michael Ennis, the shutout at Suncorp was proof of the gravity of the task at hand for Barrett.
“Given what they have been like defensively, the fact the Bulldogs couldn’t score a point against them [the Broncos] shows just how far off they are with their attack,” Ennis said on the Big League Wrap.
“They could still be there and not have scored. There were positive signs early when Elliott went through and Flanagan missed an opportunity to score but other than that it was few and far between. It’s going to be a long year for them.”
Greg Alexander agreed, adding: “Some of those block shapes they ran, they never looked like making a break. Baz [Trent Barrett] has a lot of work to do.”
Flanagan would be a good place to start. The 22-year-old was brought in by Barrett to revitalise the Bulldogs’ stagnant attack but has already found himself under pressure.
He was guilty of coming up with the wrong options in attack against Brisbane - playing it short to forwards too often instead of linking with numbers on the outside and, according to the Daily Telegraph’s Paul Crawley, he is “going backwards”.
While Flanagan — just 32 NRL games into his career — is developing as a halfback, his workload and responsibility is that of a senior playmaker. He is currently averaging 60 possessions per game - 26 more than his halves partner Jake Averillo (34), who has picked up an ankle injury and been replaced by Lachlan Lewis.
The Panthers, Knights, Tigers and Sharks are the four other teams who have a similar disparity in possessions between their halves. The key difference is those four teams have experienced halfbacks who have largely grown used to being the dominant playmaker with Brooks the potential exception.
Barett was quick to leap to the defence of Flanagan following the dismal Broncos defeat, keen to deflect some of the criticism from his young star.
“Certainly he could have done a few things better tonight, Kyle, but the attack revolves around 13 people on the football field and if you’re middles aren’t doing their job or your hooker’s not doing his job or your back-rower’s not leading properly, well then the whole thing falls down,” he added. “And that’s where we’re at at the moment, and we were tonight certainly.”
Currently just one forward - Adam Elliott - is averaging over 100 metres per game while the Bulldogs are also conceding the most run metres.
Without the platform up front, it won’t matter who is playing in the halves or what attacking plan Barrett has - it will be ineffective.
NRL360’s Paul Kent, however, called on Barrett to simplify the Bulldogs gameplan to help instil confidence in his young halves.
“I think Canterbury have to go back to fundamental football,” Kent said on Tuesday night. “That’s what turns them around – catch, pass, three on two, make the right call. It’s simple stuff. They’ve struggled to get to their kick, poor old Kyle Flanagan, you watch them and they make a break and he got the ball and he dropped his lollies. It’s just some of the mistakes there, that’s endemic of the pressure that’s on them at the moment.”
With the Rabbitohs and Storm in the next fortnight though, it is not going to get any easier for Barrett and the Bulldogs to turn it around. No-one is expecting Barrett’s Bulldogs to be scoring points at will like the Panthers of 2020 - the gap in roster quality speaks for itself. But so do the stats and Barrett needs to make sure his fingerprints are all over the solution.
2021 PLAYMAKER POSSESSIONS PER GAME*
Jarome Luai 46
Nathan Cleary 81
Dylan Brown 43
Mitchell Moses 48
Lachlan Lam 44
Luke Keary 59
Ashley Taylor 43
Jamal Fogarty 58
Corey Norman 39
Ben Hunt 50
Jack Wighton 36
George Williams 45
Cody Walker 38
Adam Reynolds 39
Kurt Mann 35**
Mitchell Pearce 80
Kodi Nikorima 50
Chanel Harris-Tavita 64
Anthony Milford 54
Brodie Croft 41
Cameron Munster 59
Jahrome Hughes 53
Matt Moylan 41
Chad Townsend 66
Adam Doueihi 38
Luke Brooks 58
Michael Morgan 30
Jake Clifford 32
Jake Averillo 34
Kyle Flanagan 60
Kieran Foran 44
Daly Cherry-Evans 60
*First-choice halves pairings
**Mann went off injured early in round one so stats from that game were not counted
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