2018 PREVIEW 🔍 Lucky thirteen? South Sydney Rabbitohs are next up in our #NRL club preview series. J...
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Why, why, why, Des Hasler?
The Bulldogs came into 2017 with no major expectations, after a fairly quiet off-season in terms of new player signings. The biggest question of the season was always concerning the halves pairing of Josh Reynolds & Moses Mbye and whether or not the Bulldogs could score enough points to threaten the top sides in the competition after a disappointing finish to their 2016 campaign.
The 'Dogs started with a difficult task hosting the Melbourne Storm in a miserable start to the 2017 season at Belmore Sports Ground. While the 'Dogs had plenty of opportunities in the match, they failed to capitalise on these chances and went down in a tough rain-soaked 12-6 loss. Canterbury then went across to Allianz Stadium to take on the Roosters and despite a good early start they again went down by 28-24, in a game where goal kicking proved the difference. They then recorded their first win of the season with a home game played in Dunedin against the Warriors and things looked back on track for the blue-and-whites after a tough start to the season.
The next few weeks proved a roller coaster for the club's faithful fanbase, suffering a thumping loss to Manly at Brookvale in Round 4, before upsetting the Broncos 10-7 in a tough game at ANZ Stadium. After this result the club's hierachy announced that they would be retaining coach Des Hasler beyond season 2017 in a move that many fans found questionable, given the teams mediocre start to the season.
Seemingly buoyed by certainty Hasler's re-signing created, the Belmore boys recorded another two straight wins, away to the Knights and a comfortable win in the traditional Good Friday game over South Sydney. The surprising turn of events saw Canterbury suddenly talked about as top eight hopefuls - and almost to script, they followed that trio of victories up with a disappointing loss to Wests Tigers.
After bouncing back to down the Raiders a week later (amid a spate of crucial injuries), the 'Dogs then went on a run of four straight losses, with eventual top eight sides Cronulla, North Queensland, the Roosters and Penrith ensuring the blue-and-whites finals' hopes were in tatters. At this stage of the season a finals berth looked a long shot, with Canterbury struggling to score points without Origin players and an injured Reynolds.
Against expectations, the traditional Queens Birthday match saw a 16-2 win over the Dragons, but the joy was short-lived following back to back losses to the Warriors and Eels. On the weekend before the third Origin match, Canterbury returned to Belmore for Josh Reynolds' farewell game there and managed to snatch a 20-18 win in emotional scenes. The 'Dogs eventually slid into oblivion - thumped by the Broncos 42-12, followed by another three losses in a row by at the hands of Penrith, Parramatta and South Sydney.
Strangely, with three weeks left in the competition, something changed out Belmore way. Michael Lichaa returned from the lower grades to help the his side record a 30-16 win over the Sea Eagles in what was the highest score racked up by the Bulldogs throughout the whole season, and arguably their most impressive performance. With a spring in their step, Canterbury finished the season with a 26-14 win over the Titans, before a major upset over the Dragons by 26-20 in a loss that knocked their long-time rivals out of the finals race at the very last chance.
The moment Josh Reynolds announced that he was moving to the Wests Tigers at the conclusion of the 2017 campagin, things at the 'Dogs took a turn for the worse. It was fairly evident that this news had a major impact on a number of senior players, who publicly expressed their disappointment that Reynolds wasn't given the opportunity to finish his career at the Bulldogs. In retrospect, the Bulldogs were right in the mix for the top eight until this moment and then they quickly slid right out of contention and struggled to keep up with the pacesetters.
On the positive side, while the 'Dogs campaign was never going to last beyond Round 26, they finished the season with an encouraging three wins in a row against some formidable opposition, including two top eight contenders. A clear late season highlight was ending the Dragons 2017 campaign in round 26. Hooker Michael Lichaa played his best three games in the 'Dogs colours and this strong finish to the season gave the faithful some encouragement that things might turn around in 2018.
The late season surge wasn't enough for coach Des Hasler who was given his marching orders in the shadows of Grand Final week, ultimately replaced by Dean Pay.
Despite finishing 11th on the ladder, the 'Dogs defended pretty well in 2017, with the 7th best defensive sheet in the competition. While often struggling to score points, they made it difficult on most occassions for the opposition to score points (and this was despite a few heavy losses where the 'Dogs were kept scoreless). From Round 24 to 26, the 'Dogs looked a different team in attack with hooker Lichaa taking more runs from dummy half and playing a more expansive style. It is something that 'Dogs fans will be looking to see more of in 2018 and beyond.
At one point towards the back end of the season it looked as though the 'Dogs wouldn't beat the 342 points that Hazem El Masri scored himself in 2004. The Bulldogs finished by far the worst attacking team in the competition and often looked clueless when tasked with scoring points in the opposition red zone. While an injury plagued year for five-eighth Reynolds did not help with the 'Dogs attack, nobody stood up and took responsibility to direct the team around the park. Often the 'Dogs would have multiple repeat sets without scoring a point and then let in a try shortly after, which was basically the story of their year.
David Klemmer & Josh Jackson - the NSW State of Origin pair were again the most consistent players week-by-week for the 'Dogs and deserve to have their names thrown in the captaincy ring for 2018. Jackson was rewarded with the club's player of the year award at their end of season awards night.
Sam Kasiano & Greg Eastwood - for players who took up a big chunk of the salary cap, both Kasiano and Eastwood didn't contribute nearly enough in 2017. Injuries to the pair throughout the season didn't help, however the Bulldogs needed a much bigger contribution from 2 senior members of their forward pack. With Sam off to Melbourne in 2018, it's time for Eastwood to step up.
Marcelo Montoya & Matt Frawley were fantastic for the Bulldogs this year. Montoya did enough to earn himself a position permanently on the wing, forcing other more senior players into lower grade footy, and his season was one of the very few good things that came from the 'Dogs this year. Frawley also proved he was a more than handy replacement in the halves and found himself a regular member of the 17 towards the back end of the season.
Canterbury's relatively unsuccessful ten seasons of Under 20's footy came to a mediocre end in 2017 with just six wins and three draws from 24 matches, finishing 14th overall.
Despite a slow start (and in contrast to their NRL counterparts), the Bulldogs' reserve grade outfit was prolific on the scoreboard and surged up the table late in the season, finishing fourth and progressing all the way to the Preliminary Finals before losing to eventual premiers and NRL state champions Penrith. New signing Josh Cleeland was a revelation in the halves (and arguably should've seen time in first grade), while back-rower Rhyse Martin won the side's player of the year award and will undoubtedly factor into Pay's equation in 2018.
The Bulldogs have been very active in the player transfer market, securing big key signatures of Kieran Foran & Aaron Woods. It remains to be seen how the loss of club stalwarts in Reynolds & James Graham will impact the club, as well as the loss of Kasiano to the Storm.
Under a new coach, Canterbury will be looking to implement a new attacking style - something that should excite the Belmore faithful after a lacklustre couple of years under Hasler. The biggest question remains on the halves combination - can Foran get back to the form he displayed in his Manly days? Will Mbye improve with a more structured halves partner? Can Lichaa continue the form that saw him finish 2017 on a high and earn a new contract? Who is prepared to step up in the forwards to fill the void of a number of big-name losses over the past few seasons? It looks as though Jackson or Aiden Tolman are the front runners to be named as the new Bulldogs captain, and the 'Dogs will be hoping that the personnel changes made over the off season can bring them back into title contention in 2018.
Here's they could line up in the new year based on current signings:
1. Will Hopoate 2. Brett Morris 3. Josh Morris 4. Brenko Lee 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Moses Mbye 7. Kieran Foran 8. Aaron Woods 9. Michael Lichaa 10. Aiden Tolman 11. Josh Jackson 12. Rhyse Martin 13. David Klemmer
Interchange: 14. Adam Elliot 15. Raymond Faitala-Mariner 16. Danny Fualolo 17. Greg Eastwood