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The Bulldogs will be looking forward to a bright new era in 2005. As reigning champions they don?t need to change much on the field, but they would like to avoid another year of dramas off it.
From the salary cap dramas of 2002 to last years Coffs Harbour rape allegations the Bulldogs name has been tarnished as a club, but 2005 represents a chance to put all that behind them. Only at State of Origin time last year Willie Mason was in all sorts of trouble for his supposedly anti-social behaviour. He transformed his image into a far more positive one through a better approach to his training, which certainly helped his performances for the rest of season. He finished the season a Grand Final winner and a Clive Churchill Medallist.
In 2004 the Bulldogs began the season without great expectations, because the likes of Travis Norton and Nigel Vagana had left the club due to salary cap restrictions. Few could have predicted the immediate impact of youngsters Willie Tonga and Sonny-Bill Williams. Tonga finished the year as the NRL?s form centre and a Kangaroo tourist, while Sonny-Bill is already living up to his ?superstar of the future? billing. Sonny-Bill will carry bigger expectations in 2005. Coach Steve Folkes is likely to pick him in the starting lineup soon, despite the impact he provides off the bench. Sonny-Bill thrilled Bulldogs fans in his debut season with his superb one handed offloads and flick passes, as well as his shoulder charges. The Bulldogs are well served for young forward talent, with Roy Asotasi and Reni Maitua ensuring that their bench will be still one of the best in the NRL.
TITLE THREATS: The Bulldogs will aim to become the first team to win back to back titles since the Brisbane Broncos won the 1997 Super League and 1998 NRL Grand Finals. While the Bulldogs and the Roosters dominated last season, both have slightly weakened rosters and other squads have strengthened, meaning a more wide open competition is in store. Despite the retirement of the great Brad Fittler, the Roosters have bought quite well and will be hungry to avenge their grand final loss to the Bulldogs. The Brisbane Broncos look more formidable in 2005 with major signings Justin Hodges and Brad Thorn, and they have the game?s best player Darren Lockyer guiding them around the park. The St.George-Illawarra Dragons are capable of anything if they get all their representative stars on the paddock for most of the season, while 2003 premiers Penrith still have a healthy mixture of representative stars and promising youngsters. It would be remiss of the Bulldogs to write off the 2004 ?fairytale men?, the North Queensland Cowboys after the northerners beat them 30-22 in last year?s 3rd qualifying final.
ACHILLES HEEL: There aren?t too many weaknesses in the premiers set up but the loss of captain Steven Price to the New Zealand Warriors could be hard to overcome. While they have several very capable leaders in the team including fill in Grand Final captain Andrew Ryan, prop Mark O?Meley and veteran lock Tony Grimaldi, they don?t compare to Price. Price was a great clubman and an excellent prop forward in his own right. His consistency and reliability will be missed as much as his inspirational leadership. SEASON 2005 CRYSTAL BALL
BEST: Grand Final Winners. WORST: Preliminary Finalists
BULLDOGS ? Likely Lineup ?
Michael Allen?s Player Ratings in brackets
10= Superstar 9= Very Good Player 8= Good Player 7= Above Average Player 6= Average Player
1- Luke Patten (8) 2- Hazem El Masri (8) 3- Jamaal Lolesi (7) 4- Willie Tonga (9) 5- Matt Utai (9) 6- Braith Anasta (8) 7- Brent Sherwin (9) 8- Mark O?Meley (9) 9- Adam Perry (6) 10- Willie Mason (9) 11- Sonny-Bill Williams (10) 12- Andrew Ryan (9) 13- Tony Grimaldi (7)
Player Rating Average: 8 -Backs: 8.29, Forwards: 8.33, Interchange: 7.
Gains: Ben Czislowski (Broncos\\Clydesdales, 2yrs), Chris Armit (Eels 2yrs), Nathan Armit (Eels 2yrs), Marvin Karawana (Wainuiomata, NZ, 2yrs), Isaac Kaufman (Easts Tigers), Dallas McIllwain (Easts Tigers)
BULLDOGS 2005 NRL DRAW
1- Dragons (Telstra Stadium) 2-Cowboys (Dairy Farmers Stadium) 3- Wests Tigers (Telstra Stadium) 4- Sharks (Toyota Park) 5- BYE 6- Sydney Roosters (Telstra Stadium) 7- Knights (Energy Australia Stadium) 8- Eels (Telstra Stadium) 9- Broncos (Suncorp Stadium) 10- Sea Eagles (Sydney Showground) 11- Storm (Olympic Park) 12- Cowboys (Carrara Stadium) 13- Rabbitohs (Sydney Showground) 14- BYE 15- Raiders (Sydney Showground) 16- Sea Eagles (Brookvale Oval) 17- Storm (Sydney Showground) 18- Warriors (Ericsson Stadium) 19- Panthers (Penrith Stadium) 20- Broncos (Telstra Stadium) 21- Rabbitohs (Aussie Stadium) 22- Knights (Telstra Stadium) 23- Eels (Parramatta Stadium) 24- Tigers (Telstra Stadium) 25- Panthers (Telstra Stadium) 26- Roosters (Aussie Stadium)