2016 NRL Preview: Canterbury Bulldogs

Last season placing: 5th (eliminated in the second week of finals)

Faltering against some of the lesser teams and challenging the big teams was a hallmark of the Bulldogs’ 2014 and 2015 seasons. Winning all of their four games against Melbourne, and then only two against the Tigers (since 2014) has meant their position on the ladder has been under where it really should be: 2014 especially had a win against all the top four teams, and then only losses against the Broncos and Titans – who knows if not letting those games slip could have earned them that elusive week of rest.

The fullback is a major talking point: the loss of Ben Barba has seen Sam Perrett, Brett Morris and even Mitch Brown put in at number one over the past two years: the addition of Brad Abbey and Will Hopoate has given Des Hasler more depth and more options; which is a welcome mix of youth and experience that could be tried in early rounds.

The halves are the other elephant on the sideline: will losing the State of Origin winning Hodkinson give the Belmore boys something to regret? Josh Reynolds put in a strong performance for the ‘Dogs trial team against the Storm, and as the senior half it’s up to him to curb his sometimes over-the-top instinct to balance the Mbye spark. The performance of the one, six, and seven is what’s going to make or break Canterbury’s 2016.

Key Players:
Moses Mbye
The rookie with a rumoured $750k contract on the table, Mbye definitely has a point to prove. Replacing Trent Hodkinson who had a lackluster 2015, he is the great hope to yin Josh Reynolds’ yang and give the Bulldogs a leader of the forwards and backs alike: playmakers are the most important part of the team according to many, and Canterbury are in the dire need for their rookie playmaker to fire.

Sam Kasiano
He’s one of the biggest forwards in the league and will be looking to be large and in charge for the 2016 season. The reduction of the interchange bench is said to be the downfall of the big man – the one they call “Dogzilla” is ready to refute that. While some of the other clubs have undergone major weight loss in the forwards, there is not much in the league that can compare to a Sam Kasiano offload. The issue for this league behemoth is how his frame will stack up to the newer, faster game – the season is dependent on it.

Curtis Rona
Try machine with a penchant for acrobatics, Rona was not a presence on the wing but a force on the flanks, pouncing on any half-chance to find the line. The ability of the halves to give him quality ball, and of the man himself to plant it, are imperative to the Bulldogs’ attack. If they are to cross the white line enough to win, Rona has got to be a big part of that.

Likely Round 1 line-up:
1. Brett Morris/Will Hopoate*, 2. Curtis Rona, 3. Josh Morris, 4. Will Hopoate/Kerrod Holland*, 5. Sam Perrett, 6. Josh Reynolds, 7. Moses Mbye, 8. James Graham (c), 9. Michael Lichaa, 10. Aiden Tolman, 11. Josh Jackson, 12. Tony Williams, 13. Greg Eastwood. Interchange: 14. Sam Kasiano, 15. David Klemmer, 16. Shaun Lane, 17. Tim Browne.
*Brett Morris is not a certain round one starter and Will Hopoate is expected to fill in if unavailable

Story of 2016:
Will Hopoate to return to form after a disappointing stint at the Eels. Under Des, who he has his most devastating form under, earning himself a NSW debut, Hopoate has done the club a favour by training the house down; here’s hoping all this training equates to something and the former Eel and Sea Eagle can regain the NSW spot on a top run of form and not incumbency.

Ladder: To make the top 8
Predicted Top Tryscorer: Curtis Rona
Predicted Top Pointscorer: Curtis Rona (a lot of tries)
Predicted Player of the Year: Aiden Tolman

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