Last season placing: Grand Final runners up.
The Bulldogs embark on their 80th anniversary season as bridesmaids once again, having finished runners up twice in the past three seasons. Heading into this campaign, they have every reason to be optimistic that they can take that one extra step. They face one significant loss with the departure of captain Michael Ennis, though his replacement Michael Lichaa who started getting his feet wet with the Sharks last season, is touted as a future rep talent. Brett Morris reunites with twin brother Josh in one of the off-seasons biggest moves. Morris figures to alleviate Sam Perrett of the fullback duties, replacing the safe, reliable approach of Perrett with a genuine attacking threat that the Dogs have lacked at the back since the departure of Ben Barba. The additions of Curtis Rona, and Jacob Loko if he can stay on the field, have strengthened the Bulldogs backline into one of the more exciting groups in the competition on paper. Boasting one of the biggest and most revered forward packs in the competition led by the best prop in the game, a State of Origin winning halves combination, a potentially electric backline with the likes of the Morris twins and Tim Lafai, and of one of the games great figures in the coaching box in Des Hasler the Dogs are primed for a prosperous year if Lichaa can quickly adapt from the murky depths of Cronulla to the expectations and demands of a playoff calibre side.
Key Players: The Bulldogs halves pairing of Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds were a revelation in 2014 as the two combined as not just a formidable NRL duo, but as the first NSW halves pairing to win a series since the great Andrew Johns, and another one time Bulldog Braith Anasta back in 2005. For the Bulldogs to take the next step in 2015, it’s imperative these two continue to blossom into one of the competitions elite pairings to compete with the likes of Foran and Cherry-Evans at Manly or Pierce and Maloney at the Roosters. To do so, they’ll need to stay on the field, which for Reynolds means reigning in the grubby tactics that are seeing him become a regular at the judiciary, while for Hodkinson it means fighting off the knee issues that have plagued his career thus far.
Drawbacks: Since his arrival at Belmore in 2010, the Bulldogs maintained a winning record in four of the five seasons with former captain Michael Ennis at the helm, including two Grand Final appearances. Former Sharks young gun Michael Lichaa is now expected to slot straight into Ennis’ boots, but at 21 years old and with just 15 NRL appearances on his belt, Lichaa simply does not have the leadership or experience that Ennis possesses as a former Dally M Hooker of the Year, former Origin representative, with over 200 games on his resume. As polarising a figure as he is, Ennis was an integral part of the Bulldogs identity over the past five years.
Story of 2015: The British Bulldog James Graham. Since arriving in the NRL in 2012, the ferocious Englishman has been one of the competitions elite performers and was duly recognised in 2014 as the Dally M Prop of the Year. But for all of his exploits, Graham remained in the shadow of the more glitzy pommy star Sam Burgess, who one upped his countryman last year by becoming the first non-Australian to win the Clive Churchill medal. With big Sam out of the picture, the mantle falls to Graham to be the brightest of the English stars and expect to see some of the spotlight that once shone so brightly over Burgess now be targeted in Graham’s direction. Having tasted Grand Finals defeat twice already in his short NRL career, literally in one instance, the tenacious Englishman will be on the warpath this year as the leader of what should be one of the NRL’s toughest forward packs.
Ladder: Make the top 8
Top Tryscorer: Brett Morris
Top Pointscorer: Trent Hodkinson
Player of the Year: James Graham
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