It’s no secret among NRL fans that the Bulldogs have had a far from ideal start to the season, just one win from their first 4 has many Dogs fans looking for heads to roll.
This past weekend’s game against Manly was by far the poorest showing of the new campaign, giving many fans flashbacks to the disastrous back-end of last season.
But is it really time for legendary coach Des Hasler to be shown the door, or are there ways that the club can turn their shaky start to the season around?
The Forwards have lost their bark.
Ever since Hasler was brought in, the Bulldogs have been a team built around a single idea, that they are going to run over the top of you.
Now for the first few years this worked brilliantly, with the club reaching two grand finals on the back of this philosophy. However, within the past 12 months it’s become clear that Dogs have been figured out, and are now starting to struggle as a result.
They have been long criticised for their lack of attacking flair, but up until recently teams couldn’t keep up with their forwards so they had a cop-out.
You know it’s a bad sign when your team’s biggest impact player is a bench forward in Sam Kasiano.
The captain James Graham has been below his best to start the year, we’re yet to see any of the ball playing skills that he has been renowned for in recent years, and the Dogs seem to be struggling even more because of it. His front row partner Aiden Tolman may win the title for the most boring player in the NRL thanks to a stunning lack of attributes in his attacking game, so together they have failed to make much of an impact this season.
All this complimented by poor halves play means that in attack, the Bulldogs have really struggled to get anything going.
Aiden Tolman, Josh Jackson and David Klemmer recently signed extensions which means that the Dogs will have to try to work with what they’ve got in the forwards. James Graham definitely needs to go back to being their primary ball player, using the other forwards to open up space on the outside for the backs.
Michael Lichaa has raised a lot of eyebrows among Canterbury supporters, and not in a pleasantly surprised way. He offers the team next to nothing in attack, very rarely runs the ball out of dummy half and at times looks scared to be tackled.
Josh Reynolds is the ideal utility off the bench, provides an instant spark and tries his absolute guts out every week. I believe he would be much better suited to the no. 9 role, having him scoot out of dummy half and take on the line would instantly create more opportunities for the rest of the team.
But moving Reynolds to hooker leaves the five-eighth role empty, and while yes the Bulldogs don’t have a plethora of young talent in the halves, Des has been very hesitant when it comes to using players that have come through the club’s youth ranks. Given the poor start to the season it can’t hurt to shift things around and try Josh Cleeland or Lachlan Lewis for a week or two to see if there’s any promise there.
Another move that could help is moving Brett Morris to fullback, he was a fantastic piece for the Dogs when he was back there and despite his ability to finish off tries he’s wasted out on the wing. Brad Abbey has been far from extraordinary since filling in for Will Hopoate so dropping him out of the side for Tyrone Phillips and moving Morris back to the no. 1 spot could prove fruitful for the blue and whites.
I know I prefaced this by saying there are things that the club can do to avoid showing Des the door, but in reality he needs to go.
His determination to continue on with this failing game plan shows us that he really is running out of ideas and realises that the squad he has spent years building is no longer as effective as it used to be.
Showing him the door, just a few weeks into the season would not be ideal but should the team fail to make the 8 this year, it’s going to be hard for the club to make excuses for him anymore.
He has failed to strengthen the side when we need it most, despite Brenko Lee looking like a good buy so far. Tony Williams, Michael Lichaa haven’t panned out quite like they were supposed to. Letting Trent Hodkinson go has backfired, now the team has no half to lead them around the park and severely lacks a goal kicker.
A lot of his blunders have been covered up by the fact that the team gets into the 8 each year. However as last year showed, teams that have a good attacking set up like the Cowboys and the Panthers are primed to towel them up.
Wholesale changes are needed at the Bulldogs, there are pieces worth building around in the current squad. A rebuild is desperately needed in order to at least have some direction; this may require sacrificing a spot in the finals this year but long-term it would prove much more beneficial to the club.
Someone new in charge is needed to take the club in that direction, Des Hasler seems to have become stuck in his ways and is not willing to admit any fault.
Sticking with the same team week in and week out is doing nothing but hurting the team in the long run, changes are definitely needed in the squad and especially in the spine.
Thursday nights game against Brisbane could prove decisive for Hasler and the club, with perhaps the only thing saving his job being 2 points.
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