Going into the 2013 NRL season you would have been hard pressed to find someone that didn’t have the Canterbury Bulldogs down as one of the premiership favorites. Their less than idea start has horrified some within their fan base and it begs the question, is it already time to start worrying about the Bulldogs premiership prospects this season?
The Bulldogs had an extraordinary season in 2012. While people expected them to improve under Des Hasler no one had them going all the way to the Grand Final.
When you look back at last season, pretty much everything went right for the Bulldogs. They got Des Hasler a year ahead of schedule Josh Reynolds and Ben Barba had breakout seasons in which they turned from promising youngsters into rep quality players. Sam Kasiano took a step up from being a fringe first grader into a test player and his game worked seamlessly with Frank Pritchard who had the best season of his career. The cheap signing of James Graham was matched by the mid season recruitment of Krisnan Inu and Sam Perrett…in fact, when you look back at 2012, the Bulldogs must have found a 7 leaf clover some time in January of that year!
They got close, but you always got the feeling the Bulldogs would be even better in 2013. I still believe that is possible, even if some of their fair weather supporters don’t.
Injuries and suspensions have really taken their toll so far this season.
The Bulldogs have a fairly unique style of play in that their front rowers in Kasiano and Pritchard are not only giants, but they have a bit of ball playing ability. Last season the Bulldogs used the ball playing ability both players have as a weapon they used to wear opposition forward packs down. Kasiano and Pritchard are hard to tackle at the best of times. Teams have to commit defenders to bring both down. Throw in that both have very good short passing games and the Bulldogs were constantly keeping opposition packs on their toes.
Other players in the Bulldogs pack are hard workers, but they don’t trouble teams with line breaking ability or offloads. The Bulldogs pack is very much an entire unit with different parts that when put together are almost unstoppable When Pritchard and Kasiano come off the field Hasler can throw on Greg Eastwood, who himself has decent ball playing ability, and James Graham who chews through tackles and attacking meters. When you take key elements of their pack away, you end up with a team that not only has to work harder for go forward, but that doesn’t open the field up as much too.
A lot of people have been critical of Keating and Reynolds but these are two players who had all of their success playing off of the unique play of the Bulldogs forward pack. Both are good ball runners, they are not really the types of players to create something themselves. Neither player is an organiser like Cooper Cronk or Johnathan Thurston and fans need at accept that.
The return of Ben Barba is a big boost, but it will take him some time to be back to his best. I was stunned at his first game back against the Rabbitohs, he really hit the ground running. Getting that consistency back though will take time, especially behind a pack that is only running at 50% though.
It will take some time for the Bulldogs to get everyone back on the field and then to get some form under their belt, but when they do, they are going to be very hard to stop. I still think it is a three way contest this season between the Storm, the Rabbitohs and the Bulldogs.