Here we are with part three of Ricky’s NRL Previews, as we look at the Canterbury Bulldogs and the issues that await them!
It has been some season and off-season for the Bulldogs! Salary cap issues, players coming and going, a new board; it is all happening!
But as 2019 gets closer and closer, the club has been doing its best to rebuild both on and off the field.
What does 2019 have in store them and what issues await them? Let us delve right in!
A rudderless ship
With so much of today’s game now firmly based around the halves at your disposal and their play, the Bulldogs have had little luck in this area.
Last season, the Bulldogs tried combinations galore with seemingly little success. Matt Frawley was given a chance, many labelling him as a player far too good for reserve grade.
Lo and behold, when first-grade came knocking, many fans felt as if he was not up to the standard required for this level. That feeling also resonated with Jeremy Marshall-King.
A surprise selection early on to start the year, he seemed to look the goods but then fell by the wayside in terms of halves selection.
He would, however, later return to the side as a hooker, much to the surprise of many. But that is neither here nor there.
Next came Moses Mbye. One of the staple figures for the Bulldogs in recent years, rumour and innuendo kick-started. Oh, and that thing called the salary cap breach as well.
Despite making a shift to fullback that seemed to work out ok for a while, the former half was eventually allowed to leave due to the cap issues the club faced.
That leaves us with one man. Kieran Foran. A premiership winner, a proven performer….though the struggles have been clear since he left the Manly Sea Eagles.
Those struggles continued in 2018 and left many Bulldogs fans scratching their heads with dismay and disappointment.
But with a new year comes renewed optimism. A chance to build around Lachlan Lewis, the soul shining light of the Bulldogs halves pool.
Get the right guy around him and he can succeed but the question is; who is that guy and is he available?
The Power and the Passion
The Bulldogs faithful are a passionate, determined and loyal bunch, though the recent years have not been as kind as they would like.
Their passion is resolute, undying and not going anywhere; that much, we know. What will perhaps be lacking to some extent in 2019, is the power.
In what has been a crazy off-season for recruitment, David Klemmer has left and Dylan Napa has come in.
On the outside looking in, the Bulldogs ability to sign a rep forward after losing a rep forward is astute business. A signing to take in your stride.
Many Bulldogs fans, though, are reserving judgment until they see Napa in action. Not because he is a bad replacement, but simply because they are not sure if he is consistent enough.
Klemmer, with all his rep honours and achievements, was, at times, an unsung hero of the Bulldogs forward pack. He ran hard, played hard and tackled hard.
With consistency to boot as his numbers often showed. On the flip side, Napa is an aggressor in the defensive slog but has been criticised for inconsistency when it comes to attacking output.
As we have seen in the past, though, a new team can bring new fortunes and knowing that he has to prove himself, could bring out even better form from Napa.
Either way, it is a handy addition for the Dogs, as their forward pack would have looked rather skinny with no big bopper addition.
Hook, line and sinker
Hooker. Arguably, the most important position in the game and yet for the Bulldogs, uncertainty reigns supreme in the position.
Realistically, there are three potential candidates. Michael Lichaa, Jeremy Marshall-King or Kerrod Holland.
Lichaa, although producing flashes of brilliance, is a much-maligned and heavily criticised player by the fans. Struggling under Des Hasler but coming to life under Dean Pay, he at least has the experience.
Marshall-King, whose foray in the halves did not quite go according to the script, is apparently being transformed into a hooker at the NRL level.
He transitioned to the role towards the back-end of the season and did alright, even if Bulldogs fans would rather someone a bit flashier and more suited to the role.
With both Lichaa and Marshall-King, size will always be a factor, particularly when it comes to the defensive side of things. However, that has not stopped them from becoming mainstays.
The third option – and this is the left-field one – is Kerrod Holland. Surprisingly, he did play some hooker in 2018 with surprising success but you would have to question whether he can maintain that level of consistency over a season.
Nevertheless, that option is there, as the Bulldogs fans cry out for a rake that can sweep the leaves.
Player to Watch
Passion, loyalty, love and a budding future star. Jayden Okunbor has everything at his disposal to succeed and loves the Bulldogs.
The hulking back-rower has come through the club ranks and so far impressed at every level he has played in.
From the Holden Cup to the Intrust Super Premiership, his exploits on the edges have contributed to many Bulldogs wins.
Part of the Bulldogs side that won the ISP in 2018, Okunbor’s sights are now firmly on first-grade.
At 21, he still has the world at his feet but may be a chance to snag a spot given the uncertainty of the make-up of the Bulldogs forward pack.
Should he snag a bench spot, it will certainly have Bulldogs fans chomping at the bit.
Gains and Losses
Gains: Morgan Harper and Tui Katoa (both 2019), Jack Cogger (Newcastle Knights, 2020), Chris Smith (Sydney Roosters, 2020), Sauaso Sue (Wests Tigers, 2020), Christian Crichton (Penrith Panthers, 2021), Nick Meaney (Newcastle Knights, 2021), James Roumanos (Cronulla Sharks, 2021), Dylan Napa (Sydney Roosters, 2021) and Corey Harawira-Naera (Penrith Panthers, 2022).
Losses: Lachlan Burr (New Zealand Warriors), Matt Frawley (Huddersfield Giants), Moses Mbye (Wests Tigers), Brett Morris (Sydney Roosters), Josh Morris and Aaron Woods (both Cronulla Sharks) and Zac Woolford (Newcastle Knights). Greg Eastwood, Asipeli Fine and Clay Priest (all released).
NRL News Predicted Line-up
- Nick Meaney
- Reimis Smith
- Will Hopoate
- Kerrod Holland
- Christian Crichton
- Kieran Foran
- Lachlan Lewis
- Aiden Tolman
- Michael Lichaa
- Dylan Napa
- Josh Jackson (C)
- Corey Harawira-Naera
- Rhyse Martin
14. Raymond Faitala-Mariner
15. Sauaso Sue
16. Adam Elliott
17. Danny Fualalo
Coach: Dean Pay