Ladder Position: 11th
Points For: 360
Points Against: 455
Top Try Scorer: Marcelo Montoya (11 tries)
Home Record: 7 wins, 5 losses
Away Record: 3 wins, 9 losses
Highlight of the Season
For just about any coach in the NRL, getting a win against your former employer is always a huge plus. The Bulldogs’ round 24 win over the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles will probably go down as their best result of the season.
The beleaguered Bulldogs ambushed the silver tails, banking a stunning and entirely unexpected 30-10 win, which threw Manly’s title credentials into question and kick-started a run of back-to-back wins for the Dogs.
Speedster Marcelo Montoya bagged a brace to move into double figures for the season while veteran back Brett Morris was also able to snare a pair of four-pointers, winding back the clock in impressive style.
Another highlight came in round 18 when they beat Newcastle at Belmore. The game itself was not a classic but Canterbury scored a try in the dying moments to snatch the victory. They then survived a short kick-off and a penalty goal attempt after the siren to take the points and spark a pitch invasion from delirious fans eager to send off club favourite Josh Reynolds in style.
Lowlight of the Season
There are probably too many lowlights to wade through them all in a dire 2017. But the fact they suffered two separate four-game losing streaks throughout the campaign goes some way to showing just how bad things got.
Back-to-back losses to start the season, albeit to the Storm and Roosters, meant the season started poorly, but it was a string of losses to the Cowboys, Roosters, Sharks and Panthers, which saw them tumble down the NRL ladder.
Another four-game losing streak, this time at the hands of the Broncos, Panthers, Eels and Rabbitohs ended any hope the Dogs had of being competitive for longer stretches.
The 38-0 loss to the Panthers probably represents the absolute depths of the season for the Bulldogs, alongside a 36-0 loss to the Sea Eagles in round four and a 42-12 loss to the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium in round 20.
The continued speculation over the future of head coach Des Hasler has highlighted just how bad things have been across the 2017 season
What Went Right
The short answer is not much.
In terms of the positives for the Bulldogs, you have to look at veteran guys like the Morris twins, Brett and Josh, and hard-heads in the middle of the park like James Graham and Aiden Tolman, as players who never gave up and did everything possible to drag their side along with them and keep Canterbury competitive.
The Bulldogs made it to the 2014 Grand Final on the back of their big, lumbering forward pack, which made plenty of metres, hit hard and threw in a tremendous second-phase at the line. While they did hold their own in most battles through the middle, they seemed to have lost their license to pass the ball, taking away a key attacking weapon when it was needed most.
A last-day win over the Dragons, which scuppered the Red V’s chances of making the finals and sent off players like Josh Reynolds, Graham and Sam Kasiano in style was also a highlight.
What Went Wrong
More than anything, the Bulldogs’ 2017 season can best be summed up in an inability to score points.
Montoya ended up as Newcastle’s top try scorer with 11 four-pointers but he didn’t have much competition. They had a fullback who did not cross the whitewash once while constant alterations in the halves saw them lack any real creativity.
The decline in second-phase play from the forwards also heavily contributed to the lack of points, with Canterbury only managing a grand total of 334 points in the season. Penrith’s Nathan Cleary and Canberra’s Jarrod Croker have scored more points between the pair of them that the entire Bulldogs side.
Stand Out Player
Montoya never shone bright enough to be considered a star on the wing for the Bulldogs, but he did enough to grab 11 four-pointers for the season. His closest rival came in the form of Josh Morris who crossed for nine. That’s about where things are at in terms of trying to find the Bulldogs’ best performer of the season.
Reynolds displayed the same heart and passion we’ve come to expect each time he pulled on the jersey, but his obvious limitations, along with those of Moses Mbye and the others thrust into the creative roles, held the Bulldogs back dramatically over the course of the entire season.
Aiden Tolman put in a big shift defensively for the Dogs and deserves plenty of plaudits for his willingness to roll the sleeves up and get the job done week in, week out.
As well as having a pretty poor season all round, the Bulldogs didn’t really unearth too much in the way of exciting, fresh young talent.
20-year-old fullback Brad Abbey had one or two decent performances while Matt Frawley came with a brief spurt of enthusiasm and anticipation before ending the season looking tiresome and clueless in attack. If the Bulldogs are hoping he could provide a longer term answer alongside Kieran Foran next season, then 2018 may also be a tough year for Newcastle fans.
23-year-old prop forward Francis Tualau also provided some brief moments of good football.
Recruitment for 2018
Players In: Kieran Foran (New Zealand Warriors), Aaron Woods (Wests Tigers), Fa’amanu Brown (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks)
Players Out: Craig Garvey (released), Sam Kasiano (Melbourne Storm), Michael Lichaa (released), Tyrone Phillips (released), Josh Reynolds (Wests Tigers), James Graham (Dragons)
There was always going to be a clean out of the playing roster at the end of such a dire season, which saw them miss out on the finals for the first time in six years.
Cult figures at the club like Reynolds and Sam Kasiano will depart to the Tigers and Storm respectively. Watching a Bulldogs game without those two involved will be a weird experience but the outgoing players have generally not performed well enough.
Michael Lichaa was a big-money signing from the Sharks but has been disappointing and subsequently is amongst those who are released.
Foran and Aaron Woods represent significant investments for the Dogs but that might not be enough to turn things around at Belmore.
Woods has come in for plenty of criticism following a poor State of Origin campaign while Foran has yet to reach the heights of his time at Manly, although the best form of his career did come under Hasler.
Where to from here?
It’s tough to see things turning around quickly for the Bulldogs. They spent big money on bringing Woods and Foran to the club but neither of those players address the direct issue of creativity which crippled their 2017 campaign.
Foran provides a crisper running game in the halves and is no mug with the ball in hand. He does, however, need a strong, steady halves partner capable of providing a direct and quality kicking game, much like he had in Daly Cherry-Evans at Manly all those years ago.
The future of Hasler remains an issue that needs resolving before things will properly move forward. If he’s going to stay, the club needs to back him and the playing staff need to unite and commit to playing the right kind of football.
If he’s going to be sacked, it needs to be done quickly so his replacement has enough time to make the necessary improvements ahead of 2018.
The ongoing concerns over the salary cap and compliance with the figure finally nutted out will also have plenty of teams keeping an eye on players who may need to make way.
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