As the National Rugby League season draws closer, we look at how the Bulldogs will go in 2021.
After years in salary cap purgatory, the Bulldogs were able to splash the cash for 2021 and beyond, luring some of the best talent in the competition to play under new coach Trent Barrett.
Narrowly avoiding the wooden spoon last season, the blue and whites are settled both on and off the field. They look a shadow of their former selves – which have, while full of heart and determination, simply not been up to par for several years.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
As at 3rd February 2021
Corey Allan, Renouf Antoni, Jake Averillo, Dean Britt, Nick Cotric, Christian Crichton Matt Doorey, Adam Elliott, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Kyle Flanagan, Tyrone Harding, Jack Hetherington, Will Hopoate, Josh Jackson, Sione Katoa, Tuipolotu Katoa, Lachlan Lewis, Jeremy Marshall-King, Nick Meaney, Dylan Napa, Ofahiki Ogden, Jayden Okunbor, James Roumanos, Chris Smith, Joe Stimson, Luke Thompson, Corey Waddell, Brandon Wakeham, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Nick Cotric (Raiders), Corey Allan (Rabbitohs), Corey Waddell (Sea Eagles), Jack Hetherington (Panthers), Kyle Flanagan (Roosters), Matt Doorey (re-signed and promoted from development contract).
Kieran Foran (Sea Eagles), Kerrod Holland (retired), Marcelo Montoya (Warriors), Aiden Tolman (Sharks), Sauaso Sue (Knights), Jack Cogger (Huddersfield), Isaiah Tass (Broncos), Tim Lafai (released).
Newcastle Knights (A), Penrith Panthers (H), Brisbane Broncos (A), South Sydney Rabbitohs (H), Melbourne Storm (H, Perth)
WHAT TO EXPECT
While expectations are no doubt high from fans, realistically it is hard to predict how Trent Barrett will fare in charge of an NRL team for the first time since 2018. He played an enormous role as assistant coach to Ivan Cleary at Penrith last season, but leading a brigade as number one is a whole other story.Embed from Getty Images
What Barrett has done well is, basically, everything. He has put the right people in charge in terms of his coaching staff, which includes David Furner, Mick Potter, Craig Sandercock and David Tangata-Toa; he scored a massive coup by bringing in All Blacks legend Steve Hansen as a consultant and he has said all the right words whenever he’s addressed the media and fans.
In terms of recruitment, the Bulldogs were like a fire-hydrant exploding after years of having very little wiggle room in the salary cap (kudos to the former board and CEO for sorting out that disaster).
First it was NSW and Australian representative Nick Cotric, followed by Jack Hetherington (one of the toughest props in the game), talented Manly youngster Corey Waddell, and then the massive scalps of Kyle Flanagan and Corey Allen.Embed from Getty Images
They join a squad that includes rep players Luke Thompson, Ray Faitala-Mariner, Josh Jackson, Adam Elliot, Will Hopoate, and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. Jake Averillo is one of the hottest young talents in the game and is rated extremely highly by all. This combines into one very good looking side in theory.
For years the Bulldogs have lacked a genuine halfback and they’ve now secured one who could turn into a 10-plus year player for the club.Embed from Getty Images
Allen was a masterstroke, filling the very important fullback position that Hopoate and several others have tried their hand at.Embed from Getty Images
Add into that the other signings, the what-ifs of winger Cotric in the centres – who people forget played there as a junior and dominated the under 20s – along with the current crop of players who have done an excellent job under adversity, and you have the makings of a team who could push for the top eight.
How long will that take? I’m not sure. I do expect the club to push for the top eight, but fall short. Somewhere around 10th position is, in my opinion, a realistic expectation for a club who has undertaken a rapid-fire rebuild.
A key area the Bulldogs have – and will struggle with – is the hooking position. Jeremy Marshall-King has developed into a decent number nine, but decent isn’t enough to win a premiership. No doubt the club will look at recruiting a top class hooker for 2022.
What their recruitment shows is that they have planned for the future. There are players recruited – including Matt Burton and Josh Addo-Carr for 2022 – that are young and capable of sticking together for many years to come. Barrett and co have laid the foundations for the long-term future.Embed from Getty Images
Although I’m not expecting miracles, it is safe to say the roster and staff the Bulldogs have assembled ahead of the season is exciting.
Top Tryscorer – Nick Meaney.Embed from Getty Images
Top Pointscorer – Kyle Flanagan.Embed from Getty Images
Club Player of the Year – Adam Elliott.Embed from Getty Images