The season previews continue as we preview every NRL team by talking to their own fans.
Today we have the Canterbury Bulldogs with help of great people from thekennel.net.au. Every bullet point represents a different response from a fan.
What are the biggest changes that need to be made from last year?
• The start of the season. The previous two seasons we’ve really put ourselves in a massive hole. It looks like the team struggles when we’re playing games that actually mean something regarding the ladder and finals places. I’d say personnel due to lack of talent, but our hands are tied regarding that.
• Given that a lot of our players are not as athletically gifted as players from other teams I think there needs to be an emphasis on getting numbers in tackles and slowing down the play the ball.
• We need more wins in the first half of the season. Another six wins in the first half allows for a couple of extra losses in the second half and still being able to make the eight (based on last year’s results).
• More patience in attack to start the season. We had many games early on well within reach. But the young squad panicked and made some unnecessary errors by pushing passes and trying to score on every set.
The Bulldogs were the worst attacking team last year, scoring the least points and tries. Is that down to lack of talent in the outside backs or coaching? And what changes are in place to rectify this?
• Lack of tries last year comes down to lack of talent mainly, injuries to Kieran Foran and some lack of coaching. I’ve read our young halves are doing a lot of practice with Brent Sherwin on kicking skills in particular. I hope they’ve also done a lot on passing skills.
• Inconsistent spine. I think we’re lacking talent in the backs and halves, mainly the halves when Foran is out of the side. I’ve never had a problem with the coaching and actually think Dean Pay has done a terrific job but he’s always going to be blamed for the problems as a head coach. You can only do so much with the squad and talent we have. The only thing that really changes is players have got another year of experience and we will not have to worry about Foran being in and out, at least until he’s back.
• Our young roster succumbed to pressure early on. The end of the season showed increased maturity in the fact that the team focused on frustrating opponents with solid defence. If we aren’t giving an inch defensively, our opposition will have to push the passes and hopefully make errors that give us possession in good field position. Scoring chances present themselves on the back of this, and confidence from some early wins will hopefully lead to more fluid attack.
It is well known that your cap situation has hindered your ability to make a dent in the player market, however you did sign Joe Stimson and Sione Katoa. Do you expect them to have any great impact this year?
• Both have shown promise but are yet to establish themselves as regular first-graders. They have a lot of upside to them and I’m optimistic that they’ll both establish themselves as regular first-graders. With good depth around our edge back-rowers and lack of depth at hooker, out of the two of them, Katoa has the best chance to shine.
• I think Stimson will be a really good player for us. I don’t think he’ll get a start but I wouldn’t be surprised if he does or later on forces his way into the back row, pushing Josh Jackson to lock. For now though, I want Jackson playing 80 minutes and I actually don’t mind Adam Elliott as much as others. I can see the value he brings just being in the side. Katoa at best is going to be a bench player. The Panthers were having hooker problems just like us and actually signed our target Api Koroisau, and Katoa was their third-string hooker so I don’t have that much confidence regarding him but it’s a fresh start for him.
With the injury to Kieran Foran, it appears your halves going forward will be Brandon Wakeham and Lachlan Lewis. They seem like the most inexperienced halves pairing in the comp. Do you believe they can lead the team around this year?
• I believe Pay will start with Lewis and Jack Cogger. Wakeham will only get a shot if these two don’t work out. I think Cogger deserves his shot first also as he has more experience in NRL.
• At this stage it’s most likely our halves pairing will be Lewis and Cogger. There is an outside chance Wakeham will start though. I think Wakeham will get a chance during the season regardless, either due to form or injury to Lewis and Cogger. I also don’t think he’ll sign a new deal unless we give him an opportunity so that’s something to think about. We can’t beat around the bush: they’re one of the worst halves pairings in the NRL. Our backs are down there, too. Saying that, I really like Lewis and hope he can make it. Some values of his that I like is that he’s unorthodox, he’s an effort player and is one of the best defensive halves in the NRL. That’s probably the main reason he’s first picked – not including Foran.
• Without Foran, the other three are capable without posing any great danger to defences. In this regard, they need to not overplay their hand, which will only lead to errors. Wakeham appears to be the most naturally gifted and has a knack for reading the game however I have doubts over whether he could last the season or even ten games physically. He has a history of injuries. All of our playmakers really need to focus on all facets of kicking. We need a lot more repeat sets and we have to produce tries from kicks given the rule changes.
• Lewis probably offered confidence in spades over anything else. He is a never-give-up type that probably inspires those around him with defensive efforts, but needs to work a bit on areas of his attack. Cogger showed that he’s potentially going to develop into our general on the field. He seems to be able to organise, has a decent short kicking game and has scored some nice tries when he exploited defensive lines that don’t see him as a running half.
Is Dean Pay’s job as coach on the line this year? Does he have the backing of the fan-base?
• Yes it’s on the line, another start to the season in the same manner as 2019 and despite a young squad, questions will need to be asked. If the team shows up and competes each week without any blowouts, it’ll go a long way to ensuring he continues coaching.
• Depends who you ask. The fan-base is divided about his ability. But it seems like he has better support staff in place and is less focused on filling every role himself. The players seem to be in his corner though and club management probably should pay more notice to that than to a bipolar fan-base. But good results are really the best way to guarantee his job security, which I’m sure he knows.
• Let’s not forget that Pay has a severely depleted squad and is hampered by the cap. We have an obvious lack of game-breaking talent when compared to other squads. But I would expect there to be some questions asked if the first half of the season is anything like the last two. He needs to show that he is evolving.
• Dean Pay is safe for this year provided we don’t finish last, with 2021 his make-or-break campaign. I back him.
After a disappointing start to the season, you managed to win five from your last six games. This had many fans asking where was this all year. How much can fans take from that great finish and do you think the team can bring that form next year?
• We can repeat the defensive effort of late last year but we’re going to be under the pump more for scoring points with Foran out. Foran is still our best attacking player when on the field.
• I don’t think we can look too much into it. Same as the season before, we performed better when we weren’t in contention for finals. Technically we were if we won every game and results went our way but as soon as we were favourites against the Cowboys, we disappointingly lost that game. The mentality we had during that run, we need to translate that to the start of the season and games where there is something on the line. Last season – from the start of the season, not just during our run – I couldn’t question the effort the boys showed so if that’s there again this year, anything is possible. I think that’ll be really hard as they’ve set such a high bar.
• The effort was present for the most part. But inexperienced youngsters at times shot themselves in the foot. I wasn’t happy as a fan with many refereeing calls throughout the year. And I saw that our players reacted poorly quite often to those bad calls and lost the ability to stay composed. As a fan I can only live in hope that our squad retains the winning mindset. Our finish was a display of focused defence and composed football. We still lack creativity, but if we can frustrate our opponents they can sometimes present us with opportunities.
What is your team’s biggest strength and biggest weakness?
• Hard to say, really. We have relatively few standout players. But if we start the year as we ended the last one, unity and determination are our strength. Our weakness is that we might still succumb to the jitters and shoot ourselves in the foot trying to make every play the winning one.
• Our strength is the effort the boys put in and they really play for the player beside them as well as their coach and fans. I saw a lot of teams give up on their seasons, such as the Knights and Cowboys, when things weren’t going their way. I think this is the biggest reason we’ll not get the wooden spoon. Due to our effort, our defence was a brick wall at times. I think we have a good base and leadership group to work with moving forward. Our glaring weakness is lack of talent on paper when comparing us to any squad.
Which player has the most pressure on them?
• Most pressure is on Lachlan Lewis. He needs to step up and take control of the team now Foran is out. If he can’t do that I’m sure he will be straight back down to reserves.
• All the playmakers will be feeling the pressure to provide more given the poor attacking results of recent seasons and once again being without their chief playmaker.
What rookie or relatively unknown player is one to look out for?
• Hard to say. A lot of people think Wakeham’s time is starting. But our back line depth will rely on absolute unknowns at times. So there may be some surprises in store from our development players.
• I would look out for Kayne Kalache, apparently he is the one who broke Jackson’s nose, and anyone willing to do that to their own teammate is someone you need to look out for
What would constitute a successful season? What would constitute a failure this year?
• We’re expected to finish second last according the the bookies. So technically if we finish second last we did as expected. A successful season for me is finishing outside the bottom four, so at worst 12th. Anything better is a bonus and will help us a lot moving forward. If we were to get the wooden spoon, that’d be a failure for me.
• A successful season would be to finish anywhere from first to 11th place. A failure would be to finish 12th to 16th. I believe we will finish seventh.
• Successful? Making the eight, or at least being in the running in the last round Unsuccessful? Not making the eight, particularly if we are out of contention five rounds out.
Who is going to be the best back and forward this year?
• The best back is going to be Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. When Foran comes back, if he remains fit, I’d say him. I’m pretty sure he got player of the year on the Kennel last year and he missed around one third of our games. DWZ also came in mid-season and had a massive impact. For the forwards, I think Jackson. He’s just so consistent and I think he’s really relishing in the captain role.
• Reimis Smith might shine if hints that he’ll move to centre are true. DWZ seems to play with absolute passion, and looks good most weeks. But I’m thinking that maybe Jayden Okunbor might be a monster if he sorts out his defence and ability under the high ball. Jeremy Marshall-King will be the key to success in our forwards. None of them will hit their straps if he’s not providing good service. So hopefully he continues to improve his ability to hit them on the chest with good ball, allowing them to just run hard.
Where will the Bulldogs finish this year? Can you see them winning the premiership, and if so, how?
• Honestly can’t see us winning the comp this year. Maybe in 2021 we will have a good crack. But I think we finish seventh.
• I believe we will either make the eight or fall just short. We don’t have the experience or strike in attack to win the comp unfortunately, but if we got deep into the semis and Foran remains healthy and the whole team plays their best footy ever, we’re in with a shot.
• I see us finishing 12th. Just outside the bottom four. I still think we’re a few players short until we’re a finals team. If we were to win the premiership I think it’d be up there with Leicester City winning the EPL.
• So hard to predict a finishing position with a young squad. The key will be in staying composed through the tough times in games. If they’re able to do that I expect to finish between sixth to eighth on the ladder. There’s a lot of teams that could be around that mark. If we succumb to the pressure regularly, I think ninth to 11th. If a lot of players get the little things right I like to think we’ll be a dark horse in the finals. But realistically, I see this year as being more of a year when we sort out more clearly just who we need to take into the next stage of our roster rebuild. I still think we need our spine to be standing out more and there are still question marks about who will even be the ones that win through in a three-way race to cement a starting spot in the halves.