‘Without doubt one of the bravest acts I’ve ever seen on a rugby league field!’
It was a fair effort to finish so far up the ladder for the Bulldogs after a fairly disastrous 2018.
Personnel changes, injury and controversy greeted them at every turn, and they just couldn’t overcome these challenges to push for a finals berth.
The Bulldogs would win just three of their opening twelve matches, all but ending their campaign. Mid-season departures of Moses Mbye and Aaron Woods were indicative of the unrest at Belmore, the latter having only just arrived.
Despite the poor start, they would end on a positive note, winning four of their final six games. Along the way they would unearth some talent that their fans can be excited for in the future.
Players like Rhyse Martin, Reimis Smith and Lachlan Lewis enjoyed solid seasons and are players to build on.
The Bulldogs find themselves in the midst of a rebuilding phase and have some tough days ahead of them. But they showed enough resilience in 2018 to suggest that a return to success may not be so far off.
Story of the off-season
The off-season from hell kicked off courtesy of the Bulldogs as their Mad Monday shenanigans spilled out onto the streets of Sydney.
Images of the Bulldogs players antics hit the front page of the Daily Telegraph including players collapsing and vomiting on the street. They were hit with a large fine for their trouble.
The other major story was enforcer David Klemmer defecting to Newcastle, in his place they would sign Dylan Napa from the Roosters. He would attract controversy of his own, with explicit videos of him being leaked online.
Jack Cogger (Newcastle Knights, 2020), Christian Crichton (Penrith Panthers, 2021), Corey Harawira-Naera (Penrith Panthers, 2022), Morgan Harper (2019), Tui Katoa (2019), Nick Meaney (Newcastle Knights, 2021), Dylan Napa (Sydney Roosters, 2021), James Roumanos (Cronulla Sharks, 2021), Chris Smith (Sydney Roosters, 2020), Sauaso Sue (Wests Tigers, 2020)
The headline recruit for the Bulldogs is Dylan Napa. He is an Origin-class forward, and a signing they needed after the departure of Klemmer.
The rest of the recruits are mostly some youth with a bit of potential,but not the experience they probably need to offset some of the losses they have had.
Sauaso Sue is some experience up front, Corey Harawira-Naera has had a couple of promising seasons at Penrith while Nick Meaney has some wraps on him coming over from the Knights.
Lachlan Burr (New Zealand Warriors), Greg Eastwood (released), Asipeli Fine (released), Matt Frawley (Huddersfield Giants), David Klemmer (Newcastle Knights), Moses Mbye (Wests Tigers), Brett Morris (Sydney Roosters), Josh Morris (Cronulla Sharks), Clay Priest (released), Aaron Woods (Cronulla Sharks), Zac Woolford (Newcastle Knights)
Their has been a pretty steady stream of exits at Belmore over the past few seasons, with salary cap pressure. Moses Mbye and Aaron Woods both left midway through last season.
The Morris twins both depart and more size is lost up front in the shape of Klemmer and Greg Eastwood. They will struggle without all that experience this season.
How does their roster rate?
It certainly isn’t the best the Bulldogs have had. Their are some major deficiencies in this side in terms of experience and depth.
The fullback to start the year is likely to be either Will Hopoate or Nick Meaney. The former has done the job before while the latter has just the five games under his belt at 20 years of age.
The wing pairing is likely to start as Marcelo Montoya and Reimis Smith. The combination has less than 50 games of NRL experience, but Smith in particular was impressive last season with seven tries from eleven games and twelve linebreaks.
The centre pairing is probably going to start as Kerrod Holland and Will Hopoate if the latter doesn’t play fullback. They have Christian Chrichton and Corey Harawira-Naera, among others, as options for the backline.
After an impressive debut season, Lachlan Lewis will start the year in the halves with Keiran Foran. Foran has had a really disrupted few years at a couple of clubs, and will be hoping 2019 brings some stability.
He is one of the most experienced players the Bulldogs have, and they will need him to rediscover some form. Lachlan Lewis was a big part of the Dogs resurgence last season, winning four of his final five matches in 2018.
Fa’amanu Brown and Jeremy Marshall-King are options in case of injury in the halves but like Lewis are very inexperienced.
Michael Lichaa will again be hooker for the Bulldogs. Now with 100 games for his career, they will need more from him this season. Their is not a lot of depth in this area.
In the forwards the Bulldogs are a bit stronger. The front row rotation of Aiden Tolman and Dylan Napa is an experienced one with Sauaso Sue coming off the bench. Josh Jackson is now an Origin class second rower, and captained the side last season. He is one of the most consistent performers in the NRL.
Rhyse Martin was a find last season, kicking goals at over 90 per cent, he’ll be important for the Dogs. Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Corey Harawira-Naera and Adam Elliott make up other options for the second row, and aren’t the flashiest of the competition by a long way.
Lachlan Lewis. In what was a pretty ordinary ordinary season for the Bulldogs it was refreshing to see a few youngsters step up and propel the Dogs to a few wins late in the season.
One such player who was front and centre was Lachlan Lewis. In a particular match against the Warriors, he slotted a field goal from a long way out to win the game on his 22nd birthday. He would also score a try, and set up another two in what was a sign of the future for the club.
The young halfback is a strong defender, has a good tactical kicking game and can build pressure, with nine forced drop outs in his nine matches.
Kieran Foran comes back from injury and will add some experience, as well as the running game he has always been noted for.
The two should hopefully complement each other nicely. With so many players departing the club in recent season, they need someone to build their team around and Lewis could be it.
Where do they need to improve?
As is the case with just about every bottom eight side, the Bulldogs had a big tally of close losses. Nine losses by eight points or less is a large chunk of missed opportunities over the course of a season. The Bulldogs are labelled the Dogs of war for a reason.
They could scrap with the best of them and push teams to the limit, but the personnel changes, injury and inexperience led to an inability to close games out.
Defensively the Bulldogs weren’t too bad, although they could be better. Most concerning was down their right hand side. Although Reimis Smith and Kerrod Holland were impressive for the Bulldogs in 2018, their flank leaked 43 per cent of their total tries.
They will need to fix this up as soon as possible. They’ll also need to replace the experience and firepower of Brett and Josh Morris. They scored 18 tries over the course of the season and while it may not seem like much they will miss them on the left side for 2019.
The Bulldogs open their season with a tough road trip to New Zealand. They have to travel to Brisbane twice, Townsville, Melbourne and the Gold Coast during the season.
They play the Raiders without any Origin representatives, although this may only be Josh Jackson, before Origin 1, and play the Dragons the weekend after. They have the bye before Origin 3, but play the Knights in Newcastle two days later.
The toughest part of the season for the Bulldogs in terms of the draw looks like a seven match stretch from Round 12 to Round 20.
In that time they play the Roosters twice, Broncos in Brisbane, Knights in Newcastle as well as the Sharks, Dragons and Panthers. It may very well be a stretch that cripples their finals aspirations.
How will they go?
The Bulldogs will be in the mix for the wooden spoon this season, their is no two ways about it. They are giving far too much away in their roster to other teams with some massive deficiencies in terms of depth, experience and talent.
The salary cap mismanagement over the past few years has put the Dogs in this predicament and it will take some time to work their way out of it. They will fight hard, as the ‘Dogs of War’ always do, but this will be a danger year for Canterbury in terms of the spoon.
Predicted Finish: 15th