Matt Attard previews the 2020 season opener between arch rivals the Eels and the Bulldogs.
The script has been written. The experts all agree … this is the year of the Eel. They have a star-studded roster that features the likes of last year’s best winger Maiko Sivo, Australian rep Blake Ferguson, young gun Dylan Brown and Andrew Johns’ number one student Mitchell Moses.
Let’s not forget that forward pack. Junior Paulo – all 123kg of him – with two $600k+ signings Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Ryan Matterson beside him. Not to mention the recently re-signed Shaun Lane, who is now among the club’s top paid players.
What does it all spell? A massive win for the blue and golds to open the season at their home ground in front of a packed house against the lowly Bulldogs, whose biggest off-season recruit was a Storm benchwarmer (with all due respect).
There is no need to go on with the woes of the Bulldogs’ past three or four years. The bottom line is, despite digging themselves out of a massive hole, they’re still a long way from being world beaters. In 2021, Dean Pay will have a team with a working salary cap, a team he has had time and funds to assemble and a team that can rival the big-names in the Eels squad.
But is it all doom and gloom for the Bulldogs? No, I don’t think it is. They showed on many occasions in 2019 that they can be competitive, tough and hard to crack. Their squad has improved (albeit only slightly) and they’ve had a very good pre-season from all accounts.
And yes, while the script, team lists, stats, expectations and form guide all point to a massive Eels victory, don’t take the Bulldogs for granted. What Pay and co have instilled in the team is a belief and a desire to play for the jersey. But that can only take them so far.
Points have been a massive issue for the Bulldogs and I fail to see where they’ll get their attacking prowess from again in 2020.
1. Clint Gutherson (c), 2. Maika Sivo, 3. Waqa Blake, 4. Michael Jennings, 5. Blake Ferguson, 6. Dylan Brown, 7. Mitchell Moses, 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 9. Reed Mahoney, 10. Junior Paulo, 11. Shaun Lane, 12. Ryan Matterson, 13. Nathan Brown, 14. Brad Takairangi, 15. Marata Niukore, 16. Kane Evans, 17. Peni Terepo, 18. Will Smith, 19. Ray Stone, 20. Oregon Kaufusi, 21. George Jennings.
1. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 2. Nick Meaney, 3. Reimis Smith, 4. Will Hopoate, 5. Christian Crichton, 6. Brandon Wakeham, 7. Lachlan Lewis, 8. Aiden Tolman, 9. Jeremy Marshall-King, 10. Dylan Napa, 11. Josh Jackson (c), 12. Joe Stimson,13. Adam Elliott, 14. Dean Britt, 15. Renouf To’omaga, 16. Raymond Faitala-Mariner, 17. Kerrod Holland, 18. Ofahiki Ogden, 19. Jake Averillo, 20. Sione Katoa, 21. Jack Cogger.
Historically this match up has been epic. These teams love to battle each other and the fans always turn up in droves. In the past 18 games, the Bulldogs have won 10 including their last outing which was tough, low scoring, gritty and controversial – typical of these two sides.
Each team’s squad is almost identical in average player age and height, however the Eels are led by furious prop Paulo, which tips their squad weight above 100 kilograms.
The Bulldogs forwards will have their work cut out for them containing their superstar forward pack, particularly with such a young backline that features rookie Brandon Wakeham in the halves.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Mitchell Moses v Lachlan Lewis
While the Eels boast some serious attacking weaponry, the Bulldogs’ inability to score points has hampered them for several seasons. While Moses has been mentored by Andrew Johns in the pre-season, Lachlan Lewis heads into the game as the most experienced half available for the Bulldogs despite being 23 years old and playing just 24 games.
Can Moses convert his potential to superstar status? Or will Lewis step up and show signs of his uncle Wally by leading the underdogs to victory?
Date: March 12th
Venue: Bankwest Stadium, Sydney