Bulldogs edge Raiders in Sunshine Coast trial
All eyes were on Kieran Foran in his first game for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and he showed glimpses in the 16-12 trial win over the Canberra Raiders on the Sunshine Coast to suggest he is just the man the club needs to return to finals football in 2018.
One important component of Foran's play that came to the fore early on was his talk. He was yelling at his forwards and marshalling his backline vocally. It was just a touch here or a touch there, but Foran's organisational skills look certain to give the Bulldogs more structure in 2018 than in recent seasons.
The other key aspect of his game was that he roamed on the left and the right side of the field and stayed alert to opportunities wherever they appeared.
His propensity to straighten the attack and take the line on also featured and the Bulldogs support players will learn during the year to have someone on his left and right shoulder to make those incisions pay dividends on the scoreboard.
Foran played just the first half but his performance generally and enthusiasm would have impressed new coach Dean Pay.
Hooker Michael Lichaa was busy early and it was no surprise when he darted over from close range to give the Bulldogs a 6-0 lead.
There was plenty of heat in the atmosphere on what was a 30-plus degree day and there was heat in the on-field action with the odd skirmish.
Adam Elliott and Junior Paulo were given 10 minutes each in the first half after taking it too far.
A slick move from Lichaa found a storming Greg Eastwood on the angle to give the Bulldogs a deserved 12-0 lead at half-time.
The Raiders started with Sam Williams and Aidan Sezer in the halves with Siliva Havili at hooker.
Ricky Stuart shifted Sezer into dummy half and brought Blake Austin on in the halves just before half-time.
It was a Sezer/Williams combination just after the break which led to Sia Soliola busting over from close range to give the Raiders their first try of the season.
Makahesi Makatoa stormed over from close range in the 71st minute to level the scored at 12-12.
A try in the final minute to Bulldogs winger Josh Bergamin gave his side a deserved win.
Raiders second-rower Josh Papalii appeared to have trimmed down from his Samoan World Cup campaign and there was plenty of impact in several of his runs.
The Bulldogs ran on a new side in the second half after Moses Mbye, Will Hopoate, Josh Jackson, the Morris brothers and Dave Klemmer featured in the first.
The Raiders also gave plenty of their squad a run in what is the club's only trial before the start of the NRL season.
Stuart and his men will have a lot to work on in the coming weeks with errors preventing the Raiders building any sustained pressure.
It was former Warrior, Eels and Sea Eagle star Foran that received the biggest cheer when his name was read out prior to the kick-off.
Foran arrived at Belmore five years after he was nearly lured to the club by former Manly coach Des Hasler.
He thought long and hard before saying no to his former mentor on that occasion.
Now he is at Canterbury working under new coach Pay and while this was just a trial there was a lot to like about the way he went about his business.