Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs: 2018 season preview

RealSport previews the Bulldogs, who are desperate to return to the finals in 2018, following a disappointing 2017 season.


Picture Credit: Casliber

Overview

After finishing in the finals every year since 2012, the Bulldogs found themselves out of the finals for the first time since 2011. Moreover, although their defence was reasonably sound in 2017 (enough to place them in the top 8 ahead of both the Parramatta Eels and Penrith Panthers), the boys from the Belmore had the ignominious honour of scoring the fewest number of points of any team last season. In addition, ever since the re-opening of Belmore Oval for competitive matches, the Bulldogs have only won two of six matches at their spiritual home. These are particularly damning findings for the Dogs, when you consider how dangerous their attack has been during their glory days, as well as how Belmore Oval is now a shadow of its days as a fortress.

The Bulldogs were able to conclude their season on a rather high note with three consecutive and impressive victories, led by the previously beleaguered Michael Lichaa. However, it was a case of too little too late. As such, under fire coach Des Hasler saw his contract terminated prematurely, much to the delight of a multitude of Bulldogs supporters. His replacement is club legend, Dean Pay, who many hope can return the club to its glory days, as well as its former status as an NRL powerhouse. 

The Bulldogs have lost some formidable grunt up forward, with skipper James Graham and Sam Kasiano joining the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Melbourne Storm, respectively. Moreover, fan favourite Josh Reynolds was forced out of his beloved club for salary, to now find himself at the Wests Tigers. However, the Dogs have secured representative duo, front-rower Aaron Woods and half Kieran Foran, from the Tigers and New Zealand Warriors, respectively.

The new faces

As referred to earlier, New South Wales and Australian prop Aaron Woods joins the Bulldogs ranks from the Wests Tigers. Woods is undoubtedly vital to the forward stocks of the Doggies, given the aggression and grunt he brings into the team. 

Despite his mental issues being well publicized, New Zealand international Kieran Foran makes the trip across the Tasman, to join the Dogs, to be the team’s chief playmaker. One must not forget that Foran was once regarded as one of the best halves in the NRL. As such, this is a golden opportunity for Foran to not only recapture his glory days, but relish his role as the leading playmaker of a proud club. 

Among the other gains of the Bulldogs is the swap deal involving the talented Clay Priest from the Canberra Raiders with Brad Abbey, who ventures in the other direction.

Gains: Jarred Anderson (Sydney Roosters), Fa’amanu Brown (Cronulla Sharks), Lachlan Burr (Leigh Centurions), Mason Cerruto (Penrith Panthers), Kieran Foran (New Zealand Warriors), Jeremy Marshall-King (Wests Tigers), Ofahiki Ogden (New Zealand Warriors), John Olive (Gold Coast Titans), Clay Priest (Canberra Raiders), Moses Suli (Wests Tigers), Aaron Woods (Wests Tigers).

The departed

Despite the acquisition of Woods, the Dogs find themselves short of grunt up front, with the likes of skipper James Graham and Sam Kasiano joining the Dragons and Storm, respectively. The loss of Graham has forced a change in leadership at Belmore, with a new captain now appointed. 

Furthermore, the Dogs were dealt a blow, with favourite son Josh Reynolds being forced to leave due to salary cap constraints, as well as the arrival of Foran. As well as grunt up forward, the Bulldogs have lost a player who is known to ruffle the feathers of the opposition, meaning there’s one less player who can get under the skin of the opposition. 

Moreover, the Gold Coast Titans were the beneficiary in acquiring the talented Brenko Lee, who has departed Belmore for personal reasons, and will now ply his trade on the holiday strip.

In addition, having gained Clay Priest in a swap deal with the Raiders, the Dogs part ways with Brad Abbey, who will ply his trade in the national capital.

Losses: Brad Abbey (Canberra Raiders), Craig Garvey (Canberra Raiders), James Graham (St George Illawarra Dragons), Sam Kasiano (Melbourne Storm), Adam Keighran (Penrith Panthers), Richard Kennar (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Brenko Lee (Gold Coast Titans), Tyrone Phillips (Penrith Panthers), Josh Reynolds (Wests Tigers).

Predicted line-up

1Moses Mbye10Aiden Tolman
2Brett Morris11Josh Jackson
3Josh Morris12Adam Elliott
4Moses Suli13David Klemmer
5Will Hopoate
6Fa’amanu Brown14Rhyse Martin
7Kieran Foran15Clay Priest
8Aaron Woods16Raymond Faitala-Mariner
9Michael Lichaa17Greg Eastwood

Key players

Brett and Josh Morris

For the Bulldogs to be a threat in the NRL and regain their potency in attack, it is imperative that the Morris twins rediscover their attacking spark, which has made the duo an extremely dangerous attacking pair during their respective careers. Although the twins are nearing the twilight stages of their careers, their importance to the Bulldogs’ attacking threat is paramount.

Kieran Foran

Kiwi international Foran arrives at his third club in as many years, having spent a season each at the Parramatta Eels and Warriors in 2016 and 2017, respectively. All this occured since he departed the Manly Sea Eagles at the end of 2015. As such, his career has not been the same since his departure from the Sea Eagles. Moreover, his problems were compounded by a number of off-field personal issues. Therefore, with new surroundings and a fresh start at a proud club, Foran has a golden opportunity to silence his detractors, as well as return to the form that saw him earn international caps for New Zealand.

Michael Lichaa

After finally deciding to play his natural game in the final 3 rounds of 2017 (all of which produced man of the match displays), as well as a solid display for Lebanon in the end-of-year World Cup tournament, Lichaa has minimal excuses this time around, particularly with a new coach at the helm. Given Lichaa was brought in in 2015 as a replacement for Mick Ennis, as well as having a reputation as a dynamic ball runner in the juniors, Bulldogs fans saw numerous static displays under Hasler for the most part in the last 3 years. However, this was put to bed in the final rounds of last season, in which Dogs fans finally saw what Lichaa was known for. Therefore, given that Dean Pay is likely to give him more autonomy to play his natural game than Hasler did, as well as the fact that the Bulldogs eventually re-signed him, Lichaa has a golden opportunity to really prove himself.

Aaron Woods

Similar to Foran, Woods finds himself in new surroundings and has the perfect opportunity to prove himself as a leader in a big club. Woods has attracted a number of critics for some performances which have been considered underwhelming, especially at representative level. However, it is known that when Woods is at his best, he is one of the most damaging props in the game. As such, he has a golden opportunity to take a leadership role as the team’s main forward.

David Klemmer

Klemmer has been the Bulldogs’ prime forward for a number of years. His displays have earned him a representative spot at both state level for New South Wales and national level for Australia. He has proven to be dangerous at representative level, despite the results not always going the way of his team, especially NSW. As such, for the Bulldogs to be a threat once again, Klemmer must help lead from the front to not only lay the foundation for the backs, but also rattle the cages of the opposition, in order to gain the ascendency for his team.

Key fixtures

Round 1 vs Melbourne Storm at Perth Stadium

With the Dogs’ aspirations to return to the finals after an off-season full of preparation, they have the perfect opportunity to see where they are at, with a first round clash against the defending premiers at the new stadium in Perth. Moreover, they will be up against former Bulldog Sam Kasiano, who will be keen to show his former team what they are missing. Similarly, Kasiano’s former teammates will be eager to remind him as to the reasons for his exit from Belmore.

Round 10 vs Parramatta Eels at ANZ Stadium

With the incredibly fierce and passionate rivalry that the Bulldogs have with the Parramatta Eels, there is sure to be an abundance of fireworks for this match, as well as the round 19 match. Moreover, the Doggies will definitely be up for this match, as they will be looking to arrest a four match losing streak against their great rivals, who the have not defeated since 2015. Similarly, the Eels will be very eager to consolidate their recent dominance over the Bulldogs, in this feature filled with vitriol.

Round 12 vs Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium

Here we have the fixture in which former Bulldogs favourite Josh Reynolds will be up against his former club for the first time since his departure. Reynolds was squeezed out of Belmore due to salary cap constraints, as well as the arrival of Kieran Foran. Given how much he will have been hurting at being asked to leave the club he loved, Reynolds will be eager to get one up on his former teammates. Similarly, the Dogs will be keen to show Reynolds that they have moved forward without him.

2018 Prediction

Although the Bulldogs participated in two grand finals under the guidance of Des Hasler, the fact his that they have been underwhelming for the majority of his time at the club. As such, after a less than impressive 2017, resulting in missing the finals, the board had decided to dispense of Hasler’s services, hiring the legendary Dean Pay as his replacement. 

As such, with Dean Pay at the helm, coupled with the fact that he spent a substantial chunk of his playing career at the Dogs, Pay is well aware of the Dogs of War mentality. This mentality is very likely to be reintroduced to the team, for them to adopt, in order to restore the winning culture that the club had been accustomed to in its heyday. Moreover, the acquisitions of representative stars, Aaron Woods and Kieran Foran, will undoubtedly add plenty of strength to the Bulldogs’ ranks. 

Although there is a high likelihood of improvement on last season by the Bulldogs, they are quite unlikely to finish in the top 6, let alone the top 4. As such, the best they are likely to end up is in either 7th or 8th season. However, they are also rather likely to just miss out on a top 8 spot, with 9th or 10th position a real possibility as well.

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