‘What is he thinking?’ Brandy fumes as Pangai loses plot in loss to Sharks

“He wasn’t on a mission to run hard and tackle hard, he was on a mission to get sent off. He was trying hard. What is he thinking?”

Not my words, the words of Greg Alexander at half-time. Suffice to say, Brandy wasn’t impressed with Tevita Pangai jnr’s contribution to rugby league stupidity in the first half of the Bulldogs’ trial at Shark Park.

TPJ got himself put on report within the first three minutes and sin-binned before half-time in a chaotic performance that will almost certainly see the Dogs forward miss their trip to North Queensland in Round 1.

It crowned what was a poor performance by the Bulldogs, who ran into a Sharkies side that seem to have already made sense of their new combinations.

“We’ve got to get that out of our game across the board. We want Tevita to be aggressive, but he has to be smart,” Barrett told Fox League. “Cronulla have got a few forwards in there with a bit of niggle and you can get roped into that and we’ve got to be better than that.

“We’re not a good enough side to have those errors and penalties go against us. We need an even share of the footy. We got a reality check for a lot of our players. Tries they conceded were soft as well. I wasn’t happy with them.”

For all that the Dogs heaped pressure on themselves through penalties, Cronulla took ruthless advantage of it.

Their spine, which included Nicho Hynes for the first time, is going to be a lot of fun if tonight is anything to go by.

Here are the big takeaways from the return to Shark Park.

Cronulla Sharks 30 – 6 Canterbury Bulldogs

What the difference between controlled aggression and just aggression?

There’s a decent chance that the Bulldogs are going to be rubbish again this year.

As I mentioned in reviewing their trial last week, the difference between their best and worst is huge, and in a weak link sport like rugby league, it’s no good having Josh Addo-Carr on one wing if you have Jayden Okunbor on the other.

While it’s nothing new that the Dogs aren’t great, one key aspect might be returning: they might be fun. Specifically, they might be fun in a way that Bulldogs fans will really appreciate.

This is the club that gave you the “Dogs of War”, and when they started with Luke Thompson, Jack Hetherington, Paul Vaughan, Josh Jackson and Pangai in the same pack, that spirit is there in abundance.

You might think of it as a maximalist answer to the famed All Blacks’ “no dickheads” policy: Trent Barrett’s men have all the mongrel, all the time.

Here in Cronulla, where they won a Premiership with Andrew Fifita and Paul Gallen in the forwards together, they’ll tell you how that can work out.

Now, sensible heads on: TPJ’s actions will probably have him ruled out of at least Round 1. Thompson has played 25 NRL games and managed to miss eight others through suspension.

Hetherington chuckles insouciantly at those numbers: he’s missed nearly 20 weeks through bans.

Vaughan got sacked last year and Jackson’s Wikipedia page variously labels him “uncompromising” and “rugged” – we all know what that means.

There were times, though, where it looked a little better. Thompson carries so hard, and managed to smuggle offloads out as well.

Aaron Schoupp and Matt Burton showed moments of flair. Vaughan even tried to kick the ball at one point.

For a side that has spent the better part of two years getting meekly flogged, the return of a bit of fight might not be the worst thing. Just a bit more control, please, Tevita.

Hynes primed to step out of Storm shell

That Nicho Hynes can play. There’s been doubters, for sure, who would tell you that he was a system player made to look good by being in the best system around.

Granted, this Bulldogs outfit won’t represent that best opposition that the Sharks will face in 2022, but the speed that with which Hynes seems to have taken to his new combinations bodes only well for Cronulla.

Will Kennedy can make anyone look good, Blayke Brayley is now 60 games into an NRL career and primed to step up.

Even Braydon Traindall, who was poor last time out, showed what he is capable of with a smart try – albeit assisted by Jeremy Marshall-King tackling like a saloon door.

Matt Moylan was put on ice in anticipation of Round 1, so the jury will remain out on the fourth part of the system until then, but based on tonight, it’s shaping up well.

The only sour note for the home side was an ankle injury to skipper Wade Graham in his comeback from multiple concussions and the veteran forward is unlikely to be right to rumble with the Raiders in the first round.

“He has literally not missed a pre-season training sessions. He’s done an entire pre-season. Maybe I’ve put the mocker on him. He’ll be OK,” coach Craig Fitzgibbon said.

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