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Bulldogs' Road To The Finals

1. Tough start minus Barba and key forwards
Minor premiers in 2012, the Bulldogs lost five of their first six games, their only win during that time coming in Round 2 against eventual wooden spooners the Eels. Superstar fullback Ben Barba was missing, having been stood down by the club to deal with personal issues, and impact forwards James Graham (suspended) and Sam Kasiano and Frank Pritchard (both injured) were out as well. Barba and Pritchard both returned in Round 4, but it was a while before either began to make their mark. Graham and Kasiano didn't return until Round 8. Four of those early season losses came in four straight games, from Rounds 3-6, against teams that all ended up in the top four – the Storm, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and Roosters – but the 38-0 loss to the Roosters was the only heavy defeat.

2. Great winning run to get back into the hunt
The Bulldogs are known for their resilience, and when it was absolutely necessary that they start winning again before it was too late, they did. That loss to the Roosters bruised their pride, and the following week the Bulldogs came out and knocked over the Sharks, 24-8. Two more wins followed, over the Tigers – the game in which both Graham and Kasiano returned – and the Warriors, but then they hit another hurdle in the shape of a 44-8 thumping against the Knights on the road. It was only a temporary setback, though, and the Bulldogs went on to beat the Broncos, Dragons, Cowboys and Sea Eagles to complete a run of seven wins in eight games.

3. Inu misses seven games due to two suspensions
Normally mild-mannered centre or winger Krisnan Inu had a couple of brain explosions that saw him attract a dangerous throw charge for a tackle on Rabbitohs superstar Greg Inglis in Round 4 and a dangerous contact charge for a leg twist on Knights winger James McManus in Round 10. The spear tackle on Inglis attracted enormous publicity, and Inu was outed for five games. The game against the Knights was Inu's first one back, but he was straight out for two more games after that. Inu hasn't been in trouble since.

4. Greenberg hands over the keys to Castle
It was announced in late April that Bulldogs chief executive Todd Greenberg, who had been integral to the club dramatically improving its image and becoming attractive to sponsors again after a downturn in fortunes before his arrival in 2008, was leaving the club to take up a position as head of football at the NRL. The search for a new CEO ended with the appointment of Raelene Castle, the former head of Netball New Zealand. Castle began at the club in mid-July, and after a two-week familiarisation period working with her Greenberg left at the end of the month.

5. Reynolds gets the ‘Blues’
Five-eighth Josh Reynolds was rewarded for his great early season form with a spot on the bench for New South Wales in Origin I against Queensland. It wasn't the debut he was hoping for – Reynolds ended up not being used at all – but he was at least able to celebrate a win. Reynolds remained on the bench for Origin II, but only got 14 minutes of game-time as the Maroons levelled the series.  Reynolds was again selected for the third game, but after Blues skipper Paul Gallen withdrew in the lead-up to the clash, coach Laurie Daley chose to revamp his team by bringing in another forward at Reynolds' expense. It was a tough break for Reynolds, but he handled the news with class.

6. Return of Trent Hodkinson
Halfback Trent Hodkinson only played six games last season because of injury, but after finally finding an antidote to a knee problem he returned to first grade in Round 6 and has played every game since. Kris Keating began the season at halfback with Reynolds at five-eighth, but when Hodkinson returned Keating was forced to make way for him and the Reynolds-Hodkinson partnership began. The pair quickly gained an understanding and each has been a very creative force in attack.

7. Perrett becomes a try-scoring machine
Sam Perrett has always been a hard-working and dangerous winger, but until this season he had never been a massive try-scorer. His return in 160 games for the Roosters and Bulldogs had been 50 tries, including five in 12 games for the Bulldogs after switching to the club in the middle of last season. But in 24 games this season he scored 17 tries, including two doubles and two triples. That left him only two tries adrift of top try-scorers James McManus, David Williams and David Simmons.

8. ‘T-Rex’ slow out of the blocks
Blockbusting second-rower Tony Williams had scored 39 tries in 84 games for the Eels and Sea Eagles before this season, but has found it hard to reproduce that form since joining the Bulldogs. The good news is that he remains capable of exploding at any time during the finals series. There have been a few cameos, including a rampaging performance in round 21 against the Dragons when he had two line-breaks, one offload and scored two tries in his 47 minutes. But we're still waiting for ‘T-Rex’ to start cutting loose on a regular basis.

9. Big men carve it up against the Dragons
Williams wasn't the only forward who had a big impact in that 39-20 win over the Dragons on a windy Monday night. Pritchard and Kasiano all went on a rampage as the Bulldogs came from 20-8 down midway through the second half to win running away. Pritchard ran for 117 metres and Kasiano had two line-breaks and two offloads and scored two tries. The Dragons simply couldn't stop the Bulldogs from pouring down the field through their big men in the last 20 minutes.

10. Graham has another whale of a season
English import James Graham had a tremendous first season for the Bulldogs last year, but he has been even better this season. Graham didn't get on the field until Round 8, after completing a suspension left over from the grand final, but he settled straight into a groove and has been punishing in attack and defence. When Graham is able to line a ball-carrier up for a crunch hit, he hurts. On the other side of the ball, he has run for over 100 metres in 12 of his 17 games, and has had three line-breaks, seven offloads and scored two tries, playing for at least 60 minutes in most games.

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