Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs - 2013 Preview

In 2012, this season preview had predicted big things for the Bulldogs - and by September, Des had delivered.

Looking ahead to 2013, it appears that unlike previous Grand Finalists, Canterbury are in a very strong position. Minimal squad losses (just a few fringe players moving on) and the acquisition of NSW and former Manly second-rower Tony Williams means the club will take a wealth of experience and a consistent, quality squad into the new season.

One of the key features of the Bulldogs' 2012 campaign was ball-running and ball-playing forwards. Expect much of the same audacious, entertaining style of play from a club that looks to be dictating how rugby league is played in the modern era - but don't expect it to be all the same. We think Mr Hasler is just a little too crafty for that.

Another point of interest that few considered through last season was the impact of hooker, captain and former NSW rep Michael Ennis. His absence at varying points throughout the season showed an alarming lack of cohesion throughout the squad. Without doubting the talent and skill of his understudies, Ennis' ability to control the Bulldogs attack was greatly understated in 2012, and will again be a key feature of how the 'Dogs fare this season.

Why they'll win it
Easy - the "one better rule". Stats can work for or against you, depending how you use them. In recent seasons the losing Grand Final club has traditionally struggled, in many cases not even qualifying for the top eight. This looks highly unlikely in 2013 - while their three predecessors came from outside the top four to qualify for the decider, the 'Dogs finished minor premiers in 2012. So let's use another stat: last time a Des Hasler-coached side reached and lost a Grand Final, they went on to win it the following year. Ironically, Des' Manly outfit lost to Melbourne in 2007's decider before claiming the 2008 title. An omen perhaps?

Why they won't
Depth concerns are there. The loss of tireless workhorses like David Stagg and Corey Payne leave holes - there's no denying that. Canterbury's production line of talent will need to keep churning out fringe second-rowers like Josh Jackson and Dale Finucane for Hasler to craft his side and allow them to continue their dominance. The other area of worry for the blue-and-whites is in the halves - many arguing that their lack of a controlling and creative force in the #7 jersey late in the season may have cost them the title. Kris Keating and Trent Hodkinson will, injury permitting, no doubt be locked in an ongoing battle for the jersey and that may well affect the 'Dogs destiny.

Player to Watch - Josh Jackson / Dale Finucane
This young pair stormed onto the scene in late 2012 after this preview last year labelled them the "Rookies to watch". With the Belmore-based club losing David Stagg and Corey Payne, this pair will find themselves as regular fixtures in a lineup looking to go one better in 2013. It also goes without saying that Ben Barba needs to mimic much of his 2012 form going into the new season - without him, a lot of the Bulldogs' strikepower goes missing.

Rookie to Watch - David Klemmer
If you thought Sam Kasiano was an intimidating, imposing front rower, wait until you see Dave in action. By brute force, this young Bulldog helped carry his club's Under 20 side well into the 2012 finals series, and with the suspension of James Graham early this year, Klemmer is likely to get a run in the first grade squad this year.

Gains: Krisnan Inu (mid-season, Warriors), Sam Perrett (mid-season, Roosters), Drury Low (Raiders), Tony Williams, Junior Palau (Sea Eagles)

Losses: David Stagg (Broncos), Jake Foster (Raiders), James Gavet (Tigers), Bryson Goodwin (Rabbitohs), Luke MacDougall, Corey Payne (retired), Tupou Sopoaga, Jonathan Wright (Cronulla Sharks)

Best Lineup
1. Ben Barba 2. Steve Turner 3. Josh Morris 4. Krisnan Inu 5. Sam Perrett 6. Josh Reynolds 7. Kris Keating 8. Sam Kasiano 9. Michael Ennis (c) 10. Aiden Tolman 11. Frank Pritchard 12. Tony Williams 13. Greg Eastwood
Interchange: 14. Dale Finucane 15. Josh Jackson 16. James Graham 17. Dene Halatau