Canterbury Bulldogs – 2014 NRL Preview

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The latest NRL preview article focuses on the 2012 Grand Finalist Canterbury Bulldogs. A lot was expected of the Bulldogs in 2013 but they did not reach these expectations. Will they fare any better in 2014?

2013 review

Following a minor premiership and grand final appearance in 2012, a lot was expected of the Bulldogs in 2013. However, they did not reach these expectations as they utterly imploded against the Knights in the first week of the finals series, which led to their elimination from the competition. The slow start to the season ended up being too much to overcome, as Canterbury lost 5 of their first 6 games and were never in the top 4 at any point during the season. Big signing Tony Williams did not live up to expectations in 2013 and the Dogs will be looking for a much bigger season from him in 2014.

Statistically, Canterbury had worse results in 2013 than they did in 2012. However, their 2013 results were still better than the NRL average in terms of points scored per game and points conceded per game. In attack, the Bulldogs scored slightly less than 1.5 points per game in 2013 than in 2012, while in defence they almost conceded 4 points per game more in 2013 when compared to last season. Aside from the loss of Ben Barba, the player movements in the club mainly consisted of fringe first grade players (at the moment). So, Canterbury will be looking to improve these figures with the same team as last season sans their most threatening attacking weapon.

Outside backs

As mentioned above, the big loss for Canterbury in the off-season was the departure of 2012 Dally M medal winner Ben Barba. This leads to the biggest question for the Dogs in 2014, which is who will be the starting fullback? Of their signings, there are no specialist fullbacks, so it appears that Josh Morris will start the year with the number 1 on his back. I thought Morris played quite well in the few games that he played at the back last season. This will open up a position in the centres, which will be contested between Tim Lafai and signing Chase Stanley. At their best, both are quite good attacking players. The other likely starters for Canterbury in the outside backs are Sam Perrett and Mitch Brown on the wings and Krisnan Inu in the centres. Perrett is one of the most under rated players in the competition and one of the best wingers as well. Inu has been highly inconsistent over his career but during his time at the Dogs, his form has been quite good. Brown is a solid outside back, with plenty of utility value as he can play well at fullback, wing or centre. In terms of depth, the Dogs have Drury Low, who can cover at fullback or on the wing.

Halves

The Bulldogs have settled on a halves combination, in Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds. Hodkinson was able to claim a grip on the halfback position following his good form in 2013. As a result, the club let Kris Keating go to the Super League. This combination is very complementary as Hodkinson is the organiser who provides the stronger kicking game, while Reynolds’ strengths are his running game and energy. Aside from these two, there are no other recognised options in the halves, so if one of these two is injured then the replacement will not be as experienced.

Front row

The front row is a big strength of the Canterbury team. They have two internationals at prop in James Graham and Sam Kasiano, as well as Aiden Tolman, who has come close to selection for NSW over the past couple of years. The thing that separates these players from most other props is their ball-playing ability. This caught the rest of the league off guard in 2012, as it was a main reason for their minor premiership and grand final appearance. At hooker is the captain, Michael Ennis. Ennis is a good hooker, but doesn’t possess the creativity or kicking game that the elite hookers in the game do. Still, he is the heart and soul of the team and plays with his heart on his sleeve. At times though, this isn’t a good thing. In terms of depth, the Bulldogs have David Klemmer and Tim Browne to provide cover at prop, with Martin Taupau having left the club. At hooker, the only recognised back-up to Ennis was Joel Romelo but he has also left the club.

Back row

While their front row is quite good, Canterbury’s back row is without a doubt their biggest strength. They possess an all-International representative starting back row, consisting of Frank Pritchard, Tony Williams and Greg Eastwood. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Williams was not at his best form in 2013, which saw him miss out on representative selection. If Williams can return to his best form, then he will add another dimension to an already strong forward pack. Pritchard and Eastwood are consistently good players; with Pritchard always a threat on the edge of the ruck and Eastwood’s ball playing ability keeps the opposition defence in two minds. In addition to this, the Dogs have Josh Jackson, who has already represented Country and looks like he could push for an Origin berth in the coming years. In addition to this, the Bulldogs have Dale Finucane, Lachlan Burr, as well as signings Reni Maitua and Pat O’Hanlon. This provides them with plenty of quality depth in the back row, despite the departures of Dene Halatau and Danny Galea.

Bench

Over the past couple of seasons, the Bulldogs have played 4 forwards on the bench and I believe that this will continue in 2014. The reason being that they possess a lot of quality forwards in their squad and that they have backs that can cover multiple positions. In case of an injury in the backline, then Josh Jackson can cover as he has done in the past.

Coach

Des Hasler is one of the best coaches in the NRL, having taken his teams to the finals for each of the past 9 seasons. Over these 9 finals appearances, his teams have won 2 premierships and made a further 2 grand finals. A third premiership with the Bulldogs will cement his status as one of the best coaches of all time and with this squad, this is certainly a chance of happening.

Best squad

  1. Josh Morris
  2. Sam Perrett
  3. Tim Lafai
  4. Krisnan Inu
  5. Mitch Brown
  6. Josh Reynolds
  7. Trent Hodkinson
  8. Aiden Tolman
  9. Michael Ennis
  10. Sam Kasiano
  11. Tony Williams
  12. Frank Pritchard
  13. Greg Eastwood
  14. James Graham
  15. Dale Finucane
  16. Josh Jackson
  17. Reni Maitua

Prediction

3rd. Similar to a lot of my predictions, my prediction is based on a gut feel and my feel for the Bulldogs is very positive. I think that they will have a great season in 2014 and will bounce back from the disappointment of last season. In fact, towards the back end of last season, I thought they played better without Ben Barba in the team. In Round 25, the Bulldogs smashed a good Penrith team that was playing for their season, without Barba. The following two games with Barba in the line-up, they lost and were eliminated from the competition. The one concern that I did have was the hothead nature of their captain Michael Ennis, which really came to the fore in the finals loss to Newcastle. They recently announced that Frank Pritchard will be a co-captain. This is a good move as Pritchard is more level-headed, while still being a good leader of this team.

2014 Ladder Prediction

  1. Canterbury Bulldogs
  2. Penrith Panthers
  3. Newcastle Knights
  4. Gold Coast Titans
  5. St George Illawarra Dragons
  6. Brisbane Broncos
  7. New Zealand Warriors
  8. Wests Tigers
  9. Parramatta Eels
  10. Canberra Raiders
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