Six Again: Bulldogs' Belmore capitulation a new low

First tackle: Belmore capitulation a new low

A miserable crowd were on hand at Belmore Sports Ground on Saturday night to witness a new level of ineptitude from their wooden spoon contending club. It was hard to work out where the official crowd of 10,145 were hiding, as the hill and stands looked sparsely populated as the Bulldogs lost the unlosable game against the Raiders.

The home team started where they left off the week before, looking sharper and more enthusiastic with rookie Lachlan Lewis in the halves. Second-row forward Rhyse Martin was carving a path through the green machine, crossing for three tries and kicking six goals from six attempts. The Raiders, in the words of coach Ricky Stuart, were pathetic and thoroughly deserved to lose the game.

Then, in the 66th minute, with the Raiders trailing 26-14, Stuart sent Blake Austin onto the field. He made a break almost immediately and his energy lifted the visitors. Still, with eight minutes remaining, the Bulldogs were the next to score, kicking a penalty goal to take a seemingly unassailable 14-point lead.

It all unravelled from that point, Austin scoring the first of three Raiders' tries with only five and half minutes left on the clock. Joseph Tapine crossed with just two and half minutes remaining and the conversion brought the score to 28-26 in the Bulldogs' favour. The Raiders received the final kick-off with under two minutes remaining. They had one last set of six tackles to travel the length of the field and score the match winner. When Joseph Leilua barged over to snatch an unlikely victory, there was under a minute remaining.

Bulldogs fans have suffered a lot this year, but this was a new agony to add to the list.

Second tackle: RIP the voluntary tackle rule

There have been several instances this season where the voluntary tackle rule could have been used. An earlier edition of Six Tackles referred to cases where players were dropping to the ground to avoid being penalised for obstruction. What we saw on Thursday night between the Storm and Dragons has confirmed once and for all that the voluntary tackle rule is officially dead.

Six minutes into the game Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu retrieved a kick seven metres out from his own line, as he landed he saw the approaching wall of white jerseys and simply lay down on the field. Startled, the Dragons players put their hands on the prone Vunivalu to complete the tackle.

Seven minutes later and Dragons winger Nene Macdonald did exactly the same thing up the other end of the field. It didn't look quite as bad, as the Storm defenders were at least within arms reach of him when he threw himself to the turf.

With so much criticism surrounding the number of players falling over untouched during the current FIFA World Cup, this is something rugby league can really do without.

Third tackle: Big brother roughs up little brother

The Titans were in good form coming into their home clash against Brisbane on the weekend. They had beaten the Tigers and Bulldogs in their previous two encounters and were set to give the depleted Broncos a run as they clutched at a slim chance of making the finals.

But the Broncos were having none of it and completely dominated them across the park. Kotoni Staggs once again lived up to all the hype, having a great game for the Broncos, until concussed. The Titans were disappointing with halfback Ash Taylor epitomising a sloppy performance that lacked any of the fire required to beat the Broncos. It was a lame effort which almost certainly ended any faint hopes they had of playing finals football this year.

Fourth tackle: Panthers strike back

Penrith Panthers boss Phil Gould has spent the past couple of weeks putting out spot fires started by the media. First there were suggestions he was about to sack coach Anthony Griffin after another fiery disagreement. Tied to that was another report that the Panthers were conducting a mid-year review into the way the football team was travelling. Next, he faced speculation that star halfback Nathan Cleary was set to join his dad Ivan in Brisbane in a Broncos double signing coup.

Gould denied all of the above and pointed out that for a club in so much imaginary turmoil, they were going rather well across all grades and junior representative teams. It seems it only took a couple of first grade losses in a row and the doomsday sandwich boards were being strapped on by rugby league journalists everywhere.

With James Maloney, Cleary and Tyrone Peachey all on Origin duty, the "troubled" Panthers were supposedly set for another loss against the Warriors on the weekend. The big clash would go a long way towards deciding which club would nail down a top-four berth. Few expected the Panthers to come close, so what they delivered was astounding. Led by rookie halfback Jarome Luai, the Panthers crushed the visitors 36-4. It was an emphatic exclamation mark to round out Gould's denials.

Fifth and last: Crazy season continues

If you tipped the current NRL ladder upside down and showed it to someone who had missed the entire season so far, they would look at the top four and slowly nod their head. The Eels would be leading; following their 2017 season performance and the addition of Jarryd Hayne, that would not be at all surprising. The Bulldogs would be in second place and on the back of Des Hasler's sacking and Dean Pay's promised old school revolution, that would be ahead of expectations, but not impossible to believe.

In third position would be last year's runners-up, the Cowboys. Many tipped them to win the premiership in 2018 with the return of Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott, so to see them humming along in the top four would be no surprise whatsoever. Rounding out the top four would be Manly, who finished the 2017 season in sixth place during a turbulent rebuilding phase. Clearly it would appear that Trent Barrett had managed to end the internal rumblings and squeeze the best out of the Trbojevic brothers and Daly Cherry-Evans.

It would be a much tougher sell to explain that these four teams were in fact bringing up the rear of what has been a very tough season for anyone involved in an NRL tipping comp.

Handover: More than a dead rubber

New South Wales head to Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday having already wrapped up the 2018 State of Origin series. The last time New South Wales won the series in the first two games, they were thumped in the third game. This time, there is much more on the line.

The Blues started Origin afresh with a new coach and 11 debutants for Game 1 of this series. There are eleven Blues players who have never lost a game to Queensland. They know only the sweet, sweet taste of victory and Brad Fittler is very keen to keep it that way. As far as the coaching staff is concerned, the 2019 Origin series starts on Wednesday night. Maintaining the dominance they have established so far in their short Origin careers will go a long way towards setting them up for next year and beyond.