Pay will enter this week fighting for his coaching life. The Bulldogs have a board meeting on Thursday, in which his future will almost certainly appear on the agenda.
“They’ve got a meeting this week. That’s their job. I’ll keep doing mine,” a typically understated Pay said post-match.
Canterbury’s effort cannot be questioned. For that, Pay must be commended. The lack of quality players at his disposal is also in no doubt.
“There’s no doubt we are starting to get our (salary) cap back in order but we need to buy some really quality players,” Pay said.
“You’ve seen tonight how much fight they have in them. And it’s difficult. They’re in a difficult circumstance. Last week we just weren’t good enough against the best team in the competition.
“We learned our lessons from last week and we backed it up this week. There’s no doubt we’re moving in the right direction.”
Kieran Foran and Will Hopoate are quality first-graders if nothing else but the remainder of the backs leave plenty to be desired.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak may have produced the biggest shot of the year on Matt Moylan in this clash but he hasn’t set the world on fire since his mid-season switch from Penrith this time last year. Reimis Smith still hasn’t found his feet at NRL level, and Christian Crichton is just getting by on the wing.
Brandon Wakeham, however, has shown enough spark in attack to suggest he should be the young playmaker Pay persists with as Foran’s partner. He could do with some additional discipline, though, as his sin-binning in early in the second half cost Canterbury dearly.
Up front, Jeremy Marshall-King looked threatening out of dummy-half and Dylan Napa, Josh Jackson and Adam Elliott were at their typical, industrious best.
That all added up to another solid showing from the Bulldogs. They are tough and make teams work for wins, if nothing else.
But professional sports will always be a results-driven business and, in his 20 months in the job, Pay hasn’t been able to conjure enough wins. It’s that simple.
While the Bulldogs do not look as lost as the Dragons did a fortnight ago, they simply don’t look like winning games against even bottom four opponents – such as Cronulla.
The difference between the two teams on Sunday night was one player – Katoa.
His first try showcased his absurd athleticism. He was almost vertical while planting the ball put perfectly on a platter by Chad Townsend.
His second try was his best effort of the night.
Shaun Johnson speared a cut-out pass across the face of two Bulldogs defenders but the ball fell to Katoa’s feet. The Tongan international picked the ball up off his bootlaces – in greasy conditions at top speed – and raced over to score his second of the night.
No more than five minutes later Johnson put boot to ball and perfectly weighted a grubber in behind the Bulldogs’ line. Katoa was there to do the rest.
He was aided by two of the better games Shaun Johnson and Moylan have played in the last 12 months.
The former’s kicking game both dominated the territory battle and created points and the latter looked lively with ball in hand.
A late, length of the field intercept try to Crichton kept the Bulldogs right in the hunt until the final whistle but they could not peg back the margin.
Sam is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.