Round 1: Bulldogs v Storm preview
Premiers eye off 14th opening round win
It appears that everything old is new again at Canterbury with former premiership winning player Dean Pay taking the reins at the Bulldogs following an acrimonious exit from Des Hasler. Coming under fire for deviating too far from the ideals of Canterbury with no premierships to show for it, the new-look Bulldogs will field three club debutants in Kieran Foran, Aaron Woods and Jeremy Marshall-King, while a major positional switch sees Moses Mbye move to fullback following underwhelming results from William Hopoate over the past two seasons. Producing two wins against Canberra and Penrith during the trials, the attacking deficiencies that have plagued the Blue and Whites in recent seasons are set to be major points of contention in evaluating the success of the new Canterbury direction, however against a Storm side renown for limiting the attacking chances of opposing teams, the likelihood of the Bulldogs posting a high score appears slim given the recent history of the club. In contrast to their overall results in recent seasons, the Bulldogs hold an imposing record over Melbourne, having claimed six wins from the past seven meetings including a 40-12 victory in Perth four years ago.
Leaving the 15 other sides in their wake throughout the course of 2017, the Melbourne Storm will have their sights set on recording a piece of history by becoming the first team since Brisbane to claim consecutive titles. Kicking off their campaign with a trip west, coach Craig Bellamy has retained a similar line-up to the side that dismantled Leeds so impressively. In a massive blow, Billy Slater will be forced to delay his 300th appearance in the NRL having failed to recuperate in time following a shoulder injury sustained in the World Club Challenge. As a result, Cameron Munster will revert back to fullback with Ryley Jacks partnering Brodie Croft in the halves, while young second-rower Joe Stimson comes onto the bench in place of Brandon Smith. Holding a 2-2 record in Western Australia, the Storm will be wary of the new-look Bulldogs, but will be confident in their ability to rise above the renewed challenge of combatting rival sides eager to claim victory over the reigning champions.
Who to watch: Entering his fifth season in first grade, Moses Mbye is set for yet another positional change having been named at fullback for the first time in his career. Predominantly known as a halfback with occasional stints in the centres and hooker, the 24-year-old faces a tough challenge in taking on the mantle previously held by recent iconic Canterbury custodians such as Luke Patten and Ben Barba. Having shown glimpses of his ability throughout his time in first grade, the Queensland hopeful will be striving to make the fullback role his own, but will face unrelenting pressure from opposing sides intent on exposing his ability under the high ball. Regarded as a long-term player for the Bulldogs, Mbye possesses an impressive resume of career highlights to date, but has been unable to elevate the side to the high standards supporters and management expect. With the Bulldogs looking to recapture the glory of the past, Mbye will play a vital role in determining whether Canterbury finish in the NRL penthouse or doghouse.
As the unheralded star of Melbourne's 2017 campaign, backrower Felise Kaufusi will face a level of expectation previously unknown. Ascending from interchange prop to Australian representative, the 25-year-old will be crucial in exposing the edge defence of opposing sides with his potent hole running, while showing little self-preservation without the ball. Off-contract at seasons end, the likely Queensland debutant will have no shortage of suitors eager to attain his services, but having tasted the spoils of success under Craig Bellamy the chance to claim further titles should ensure his decision isn't motivated solely by finance. In a side that boasts so many acclaimed players, Kaufusi's feats may seem minor in comparison to the likes of Slater, Smith and Bromwich, but having aided in reaching to the heights of success alongside the greats of Melbourne, his ability on the field cannot be underestimated.
My tip: While the loss of Cooper Cronk may be more pronounced as the season unfolds, based on pre-season form it is near impossible to see any other result than a Melbourne victory. Storm by 14.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Form Guide
Yet to play this season
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Upcoming Games
Melbourne Storm Form Guide
Yet to play this season