A return to the Dogs of War was promised under new coach Dean Pay (a former Bulldogs great) when he took over at the beginning of 2018.
Fast forward to 2019 and things look promising (but slow) for the blue and whites. A plethora of young stars, coupled with some strong signings and the never-say-die attitude brought by Pay sees the Bulldogs building towards a finals charge – if not this season, then definitely in the coming years.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Jack Cogger (Newcastle Knights, 2020), Christian Crichton (Penrith Panthers, 2021), Corey Harawira-Naera (Penrith Panthers, 2022), Morgan Harper (promoted, 2019), Tui Katoa (promoted, 2019), Nick Meaney (Newcastle Knights, 2021), Dylan Napa (Sydney Roosters, 2021), James Roumanos (Cronulla Sharks, 2021), Chris Smith (Sydney Roosters, 2020), Sauaso Sue (Wests Tigers, 2020).
Lachlan Burr (New Zealand Warriors), Greg Eastwood (Newtown Jets), Asipeli Fine (released), Matt Frawley (Huddersfield Giants), David Klemmer (Newcastle Knights), Moses Mbye (Wests Tigers), Brett Morris (Sydney Roosters), Josh Morris (Cronulla Sharks), Clay Priest (released), Aaron Woods (Cronulla Sharks), Zac Woolford (Newcastle Knights)
Warriors (away), Eels (home), Tigers (away), Storm (away), Dragons (away)
WHAT TO EXPECT
A finish outside the top eight will not suffice for Pay and his players, but it’s more than likely. As promising as 2018 was, it was a year of rebuilding, and the roster Pay has is still a work in progress.
Lachlan Lewis and Nick Meaney head a list of young talent that wowed the NRL in 2018 and look to grow on that in 2019.
The Bulldogs have perhaps the best crop of young talent in the competition. Reimis Smith, Morgan Harper, Tui Katoa, Ofahiki Ogden and James Roumanos are just some of the names in the Bulldogs squad that could be anything, and that is where Pay and the new board have excelled.
Securing these players long-term is building towards a very promising future, but it means fans have to be patient. Success won’t happen overnight.
Expect the trio of Meaney at fullback, Smith on the wing and Lewis in the halves to bring a lot of attacking excitement to the Bulldogs’ playing style.
Up front, Dylan Napa will have a point to prove trying to “replace” David Klemmer, but given he played short minutes for the Roosters in 2018 he will be looking to start and play 60 minutes a match, which will hopefully mean a return to his Queensland Origin form.
The second row is perhaps the strongest aspect of the Bulldogs, with Josh Jackson, the incoming Corey Harawira-Naera, Rhyse Martin and Raymond Faitala-Mariner all internationals.
Whether injuries are kind to them – and they have to be if they’re to be successful – remains to be seen.
Top Tryscorer – Reimis Smith
Top Pointscorer – Rhyse Martin
Club Player of the Year – Aiden Tolman
WHERE WILL THE CANTERBURY-BULLDOGS FINISH?
Injuries could derail their title aspirations with depth proving an issue should a few blokes fall, but as their rebuild continues, the Bulldogs shouldn’t be too far away from a finals series.
It would be a successful season if the Bulldogs could finish from sixth to eighth on the ladder, but somewhere around 10th is more realistic.