Nigel Wall, NRL.com
As we count down to season 2014, NRL.com identifies 30 players who will be crucial to their team's fortunes this year. From new faces to rising stars to proven performers who will need to lift this season, these are our 'MVPs' for 2014.
It seems inconceivable but after a surprisingly less-than-dynamic 2013 NRL season, Bulldogs hard man Tony Williams finds himself outside the representative selectors' crosshairs for even a NSW jersey. This is the man who just a few years ago was touted as the best back-rower in the world, an unstoppable behemoth who terrorised defences with a particular penchant for steamrolling defenders into the dirt within 10 metres of the opposition try line.
Inexplicably, 'T-Rex' lost more than a few of his teeth last season, failing to make any great impact in his first year for the blue and whites. But he certainly has the potential to reclaim his superstar status, which saw him cross for a whopping 39 tries in 84 games for the Eels and Sea Eagles before his highly scrutinised defection to rejoin former mentor Des Hasler at Belmore.
And he'll need to regain his mojo if Canterbury are to be a force in 2014. X-factor star Ben Barba's exit leaves them a little flimsy for brilliance on the edges, which means they'll likely need to rely on more brute force on the fringes to post a deal of their points. That's Williams to a 'T'.
There were cameos of his powerful best in 2013, including a blockbusting effort in Round 21 against the Dragons when he notched two line breaks, an offload and two tries in his 47 minutes on the field. But his early season form left a lot to be desired and coach Hasler would have spent a deal of the off-season reinforcing this in conversations with his go-to man.
For whatever reason, Williams showed alarming lethargy early in 2013. In their season opener with the Cowboys he was guilty of loitering as Johnathan Thurston put teammate Gavin Cooper over for a try within the opening 20 minutes. Later in the same game he butchered a try-scoring opportunity he ordinarily would have devoured, then clumsily lost possession. And against his former team Manly in Round 5 his lazy defence enabled Brett Stewart to scoot clear, with Jamie Lyon ending up scoring.
Williams registered a meagre gain of just 76 metres per game with the ball in hand last year, way down on his 110 metres from the previous season. More concerning was the fact he averaged fewer than three tackle busts throughout the year – way down on his best (he's been known to nudge double numbers in the category).
Importantly, Williams will enter 2014 fit and raring to go following some minor ankle surgery in the off-season (suggesting he'll improve on his average game time of 65 minutes from 2013).
A real confidence player, Williams needs to get on the front foot early, hitting the line with more than two strides' wind-up. If he does, watch his teammates grow in confidence too, and the Bulldogs press for a spot high up the ladder in the opening two months.