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2003...The year of the 'Gunna'
In summation, perhaps this would be the best way to some up the 2003 Campaign of the Bulldogs. We were 'gunna' be the gun team, we were 'gunna' win back what we thought was ours in 2002 and we were 'gunna' go through the year undefeated.
As the curtains were pulled on the 2003 season last Saturday night, I couldn't help but think that something went wrong along the way. Where was our title? Why did the Roosters do a 'Bulldogs' on us in the first twenty of the biggest game of the year? Where had the toughness gone?
Perhaps I speak in bitterness, perhaps these are the words of a disappointed follower. One can't think (in retrospect), that perhaps it was the expectation that killed us. For as long as I can remember, we have always thrived on being the underdog. Never having the greatest roster, but able to step up to the plate on any given day. Toughness, courage and an ability to fight on against the odds typified many of our sides. The great Baa, the toughness of Cement and the brillance of a Turvey.
And I don't disagree with the fact that we fought on extremely well in the 2nd half last Saturday. We looked down and on several occasions, but the Bulldogs spirit shined through and kept us alive with a chance right up until the last 10 minutes. Even at that stage, the mind recalled the glory of '98, when we scored 16 in the last 10 to force extra time against the aptly named Chockamatta Eels. The last links to our '95 success (Steve Price and Glen Hughes) tried their hearts out, but to no avail.
Which brings me to a wider analysis of the year in review. It was a year where we got to see first hand some of the brighter talents that will hopefully guide us into the future. Johnathon Thurston and Roy Asotasi in particular left an impression that was far from bad. However, we also lost two juniors that may well come back to bite us hard in the future. Todd Polglase and Glenn Hall look like stars in the making, and will be missed
Apart from that, we will also be without Nigel Vagana, Steve Reardon, Travis Norton, Shane Marteenee and Willie Talau for the 2004 tilt. It will be a different looking team and to be brutally honest, the purchases of Willie Tonga and Jamaal Lolesi do not cover these losses. I don't doubt for a second that we don't have the cattle, but i do believe its time for a few positional moves, such as Anasta to lock and Thurston to five-eigth.
The year was solid. We finished in the top four and went on a remarkable scoring streak during the second half of the year. Hazem El-Masri kicked himself into the record books and continues to get better. Patten developed into a rock at the back this year and is starting to show his true potential. Utai is still young and will be a face of the future for the Berries. All is not lost.
For me, our 2004 tilt will depend on our back row. Gone from this year will be Reardon and Norton. This leaves the likes of the veteran Glen Hughes, the volatile Willie Mason and the solid bench players that include Jamie Feeney and Dennis Scott. One thing is for sure, Anasta much move to lock. To have three of the aforementioned guys in our starting line-up would spell disaster. Perhaps we need to move Price back into the second row and move Asotasi to the front row. For me its a worry
Furthermore, the likes of Buderus, Priddis and Wing have reminded us all that the quality sides have a quality dummy-half. Although a staunch fan of Perry, I will admit that we were shown up in this area in the finals. It may be time to blood Olivier, as Corey Hughes has had his chance to shine as well. Neither Perry or Hughes in the nine next year would leave many Dogs fans happy
But on reflection, the 2003 year will remain a 'gunna' season. In reality, we failed to fulfill a number of goals and the gunna term is now best referred to when talking about the 2004 season. Only problem is, we have to wait until March. Its a long wait indeed