The Tigers had one of Canterbury’s former juniors named Tommy Talau, son of former Bulldogs cult hero Willie, suspending himself in mid-air and scoring. It was one of two tries he managed against the only club he thought he’d probably play for.
Josh Reynolds buzzed and barked like he was at his best during his Belmore days.
Moses Mbye, shorn due to salary cap pressures at Canterbury a couple of years ago, even had time to smile as his old fans sledged him as he lined up conversion attempt after conversion attempt.
And then there was Harry Grant, the hooker they’ve tried to sign in the past wearing those bright green boots just in case they were trying to forget what they missed out on.
Dean Pay would be well aware of the ghosts of the club’s past coming back to haunt him. His only wish must be he gets a chance to coach Thompson for a few weeks at least.
Unless the England international is Steve Mortimer, Terry Lamb and Sonny Bill Williams all rolled into one, it’s hard to see how his new club’s fortunes will be revived this year.
A mid-week board meeting confirmed support for Pay – for now – and it’s hard to think the same Bulldogs directors won’t be back at the decision-making table again soon discussing the plight of the competition cellar dwellers.
Canterbury, with veteran prop Aiden Tolman returning after missing two games serving his own isolation period after a teacher at his child’s school tested positive to COVID-19, scored first.
And then they conceded frequently, 34 straight points to be exact.
Tigers boss Michael Maguire notched his 100th win as an NRL coach and it won’t be his last. It’s hard to see where Pay’s next is coming from.
Asked what message of hope he could provide the fans, Pay said: “Our cap is back in order and we’ve got Luke Thompson turning up this week. We always said we wanted to bring in two or three quality players around our young guys and that’s where we need to head to.
It is [difficult] on days like this. But at the end of the day, there is light at the end of the tunnel
“You’ve got to keep turning up and keep going. It is [difficult] on days like this. But at the end of the day, there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Bulldogs’ night was made no better with the dependable Will Hopoate, who hasn’t missed a game in more than two years, limping from the field inside the opening five minutes with an ankle injury.
His side still took an early lead after Kieran Foran spotted Adam Doueihi defending in the line and kicked deftly for Reimis Smith to score.
A little more than 20 minutes later and they trudged to the sheds 16-6 down.
“I feel like we’re definitely heading in the right direction,” Maguire said. “I felt the club had been ebbing and flowing. The history of the club is something I looked at and that’s why I made the changes [after the Titans loss].
“The fact we were able to do the things we’ve spoken about consistently is the thing I’m proud of. The consistency word I keep talking about is the same word I’m going to be talking about this week.”
Grant picked up a loose ball after a tiptoeing David Nofoaluma’s kick was fumbled by Brandon Wakeham, Talau profited from a similar mistake when Kerrod Holland spilled Luke Brooks’ bomb before Joey Leilua wrestled his way over the line a minute before the break.
The pain only intensified after the break with Talau’s acrobatics and Nofoaluma pocketing an intercept from Foran, before the winger contorted himself around the opposite corner post to Talau to notch a double.
It was good enough for any highlights reel on a big screen after full-time.
And certainly more comforting than the one shown at half-time.
WESTS TIGERS 34 (Tommy Talau 2, David Nofoaluma 2, Harry Grant, Joey Leilua, Adam Doueihi tries; Moses Mbye 3 goals) defeated CANTERBURY-BANKSTOWN BULLDOGS 6 (Reimis Smith try; Jake Averillo goal) at Bankwest Stadium. Referee: Henry Perenara.
Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.