2020 was a year to forget for the Canterbury Bulldogs but with a new coach, new faces, and a fresh approach, can they turn it around in 2021 and climb their way back up?
Building your way back up from near the bottom is never an easy task but new coach Trent Barrett will hope to instil some resolve in his players in 2021.
The talent is there but the team has been guilty of failing to score points in the past when it has mattered most. Is there enough points in the team and will their recruits need time to gel?
The Barrett Factor
Ask any Manly fan and they may not have great regard for Trent Barrett during his time at the Manly Sea Eagles, where his overall record was not great.
Put that aside, though, and it’s clear that based on his work as an assistant at the Penrith Panthers, the man has a smart footy brain and the makings of a good coach.
As is the case with any new coach, Barrett will have to galvanise the roster to believe in what he wants to achieve in terms of style and approach.
Working in his favour is that veteran players like Josh Jackson, Luke Thompson and Will Hopoate, are all still around and have the experience this Bulldogs side so desperately needs.
In a side that is likely to be rife with younger and more inexperienced players, Barrett will want to find the right balance between the young and the old.
It is that balance and how the team is able to respond to his philosophies that will determine how far the Bulldogs can go in 2021.
Flanagan’s Time To Shine?
Perhaps one of the best pre-season signings ahead of the 2021 season, Kyle Flanagan joining the Bulldogs gives them a genuine playmaker.
After his surprise release from the Sydney Roosters for reasons that still baffle many, it was the Bulldogs who were quickest to pounce.
With 198 points (91 of which were goals), eleven try assists and nine line-break assists in 2020, Flanagan performed strongly enough to convince Bulldogs fans that he could be their guy.
After trialling numerous halves combinations in 2020, the likes of Lachlan Lewis and Brandon Wakeham were often unable to stamp their authority on games.
In turn, attacking production faltered and it left the Bulldogs unable to score points or produce the opportunities required to score.
With Flanagan at the helm, a player who is still on the rise and has played alongside an elite half in Luke Keary and for an elite coach in Trent Robinson, the positives are there for all to see.
This is likely to be Flanagan’s team in the sense that he will be expected to guide the side around the park, find the angles, find the turf and identify opportunities to score.
The Rise of An Englishman
Traditionally, English forwards have had solid success when they have transitioned to the NRL.
The latest forward looking to make his mark in 2021 from England is Bulldogs prop, Luke Thompson.
Thompson, who was seen as one of the best props in the Super League at St Helens prior to his departure, has a lot to live up to.
The likes of Sam Burgess and James Graham, who both saw personal success in their transitions, have set the benchmark.
The start was slow when he joined the Bulldogs late in 2020 but he finished strongly to give Bulldogs fans some hope that he can be a leader of the pack with several youngsters in the ranks.
He’ll want to build on the foundation that saw him produce 111 running metres per game and take on more work and potentially more minutes.
Gains and Losses
Gains: Nick Cotric (Canberra Raiders), Kyle Flanagan (Sydney Roosters), Jack Hetherington (New Zealand Warriors), Corey Waddell (Manly Sea Eagles), Paul Karaitiana, Chris Patolo, Kurt Picken and Jackson Topine.
Losses: Jack Cogger (Huddersfield Giants), Kieran Foran (Manly Sea Eagles), Kerrod Holland (retired), Tim Lafai (released), Marcelo Montoya (New Zealand Warriors), Reimis Smith (Melbourne Storm), Sauaso Sue (Newcastle Knights), Isaiah Tass (released) and Aiden Tolman (Cronulla Sharks).
Player to Watch
He might be an established player of sorts but the key player and one to look for is Jake Averillo.
Averillo burst onto the scene and then found himself in and out of the side, playing numerous positions, seemingly without a spot.
As the 2021 season looms, the talented utility reportedly linked with a move to the five-eighth role, a position he is familiar with.
His tenacity, his smarts and his football nous, all put him in good stead to slowly form a good combination with recruit Flanagan, should the two be named to start.
Though centre is a position he also knows well, having shown his skills in the slot when required.
NRL News Predicted Line-up (at full strength)
- Corey Allan
- Nick Meaney
- Nick Cotric
- Will Hopoate
- Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
- Jake Averillo
- Kyle Flanagan
- Luke Thompson
- Jeremy Marshall-King
- Dylan Napa
- Josh Jackson (C)
- Raymond Faitala-Mariner
- Adam Elliott
- Lachlan Lewis
- Corey Waddell
- Jack Hetherington
- Renouf Atoni