Here’s part 2 of Ricky’s NRL season previews for 2015 and this particular part will cast an eye over the Canterbury Bulldogs. They made the grand final in 2014 and whilst it was not the finish they were after, the Bulldogs are expected to feature in the finals again. The question is, can they do so?
The Dogs have shown a steely resolve in their form of late and have built a reputation as a team that knows how to win the tight, gritty contests. The games where defence reigns supreme and points are hard to come by. Such an approach and style is what you come to expect from a team coached by Des Hasler, one of the game’s best in that regard.
With Hasler at the helm and solid core group of players at the club, you would have to be a brave man to suggest that they will not make the finals going by their recent finals success over the last couple of seasons. Any team coached by Hasler is going to give the competition a run for their money and the 2015 Bulldogs are no different.
Arguably, the biggest challenge for the Bulldogs will be working out just how their hooker rotation is going to work. With the departure of captain and workhorse Michael Ennis, now is the time for a new rising star to step up in the role, and the Dogs certainly are not void of options in that regard. The favourite is new recruit Michael Lichaa but the likes of Moses Mbye and Damien Cook will also make their presence felt at different points throughout the year.
With that in mind, the big question everyone has regarding Lichaa is – will he able to play for the full 80 minutes? His time at the Sharks suggested no but that was due to the hooker rotation at his former club and not so much his fitness. Hasler’s approach is usually one that sees a sole hooker play the full game but given Lichaa’s age and overall inexperience, would he be better served in having Mbye or Cook on the bench? Both Mbye and Cook played first-grade last year and showed that if given a chance, they can bring something to the table and with one final trial to be played, it is now or never for the players and the time for Hasler to make a decision.
That aside, the Bulldogs have no other real selection headaches but one of the big talking points for the club in the off-season was the signing of Brett Morris.
Brett will once again play alongside brother Josh, in what is sure to rekindle the competitive rivalry between the two in the try-scoring stakes. Whether Brett ends up playing in the fullback role or potentially along side is brother in the centres remains to be seen but he is a player that has the ability to change the game in the blink of an eye.
It could be argued that should the two brothers play alongside each other in the back-line, that they would be the elite centre/wing duo across the entire NRL.
The Dogs chances are spearheaded by the current NSW incumbent halves, Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson. Both of whom offer differing but effective styles of play within the Bulldogs side. To go with that, they boast one of the biggest forward packs with the likes of Sam Kasiano, Frank Pritchard, James Graham and Tony Williams all key performers for them as well as veteran backs like Sam Perrett who can be regarded as the unsung heroes of the Bulldogs side.
All in all, with a side such as theirs, with the experience they possess across the park and with the talent readily available to them, the Bulldogs would be expected to have another quality season. Hasler will have the troops ready to march into battle come rd 1 and the steely resolve will once again shine through, as you would expect it to in a Des Hasler coached side.
Best Recruit: This one was an easy selection and the Bulldogs fans could guess as to who it will be – you are correct, one Brett Morris. Showing the entire NRL just how good he can be at both fullback and on the wing, Bulldogs fans will be cheering that they now boast a genuine speedster at the back who can create attacking opportunities. With the chance to play alongside his brother again, you can expect Morris to be at his very best and Bulldogs fans will certainly hope that that is the case. Even for those that are not Bulldogs fans, when a player like Brett Morris is putting on a show, you sit down, enjoy and applaud. That is the sort of brilliance that he is capable of.
Most Promising Talent: Admittedly, picking a player for this category at the Dogs was not easy but based on the way he performed in the NSW Cup last season, David Minute seems like a good choice. A big, mobile & hard-running forward in the NSW Cup team, he has come through the club ranks and performed well at all levels when given an opportunity. He powers through defensive lines and his running style make him hard to tackle and bring down, whilst also allowing him to produce offloads to create second phase play. Will he get a first-grade opportunity, time will tell. But one thing is for certain, he does know how to get the best out of himself and put on a show.
2015 Gains: Matt Frawley (Canberra Raiders), Antonio Kaufusi (Huddersfield Giants), Michael Lichaa (Cronulla Sharks), Jacob Loko (Parramatta Eels), Brett Morris (St George Illawarra Dragons) & Curtis Rona (North Queensland Cowboys)
Predicted Bulldogs line-up:
1. Brett Morris
2. Sam Perrett
3. Tim Lafai
4. Josh Morris
5. Curtis Rona
6. Josh Reynolds
7. Trent Hodkinson
8. James Graham
9. Michael Lichaa
10. Sam Kasiano
11. Tony Williams
12. Josh Jackson
13. Frank Pritchard
14. David Klemmer
15. Greg Eastwood
16. Lloyd Perrett
17. Aiden Tolman