Beating the Broncos will be priority No.1 for many Bulldogs fans next season. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Bulldogs v Broncos
After the dream run that was 2012, last year was a mixed campaign to say the least for Ben Barba and the Bulldogs. The reigning Dally M winner was unsettled both on and off the field, struggling to get back to his old form following a club-imposed layoff at the start of the season. The star fullback signed on with the Broncos as the year drew to a close in order to be closer to his family in Brisbane, and his looming exit from the club and troubled life away from the game saw Barba fall out of favour with Bulldogs fans.
The Dogs get their first chance to take on Barba's new team here, in a match that will be a huge test for whoever gets the nod at fullback for the Bulldogs, as well as for Barba himself.
The clubs split their two matches last year, with the Bulldogs winning 24-14 at ANZ Stadium in Round 11 but losing 16-11 in Brisbane in the final round of the regular season. Will the Dogs exert their dominance over the new-look Broncos in 2014?
Bulldogs v Roosters
Speaking of unpopular former Bulldogs stars, anyone remember Sonny Bill Williams? The return of SBW to the NRL stung for the Bulldogs faithful who haven't forgotten the Kiwi forward's walkout from the club in 2008, and Williams and his new club the Roosters rubbed salt into the wounds with two wins over Canterbury last season on the way to a premiership.
The Dogs went down 38-0 in a one-sided encounter in Round 6 and were pipped by just two points at ANZ Stadium in Round 15. Despite the Roosters' success in 2013, revenge would still taste sweet for Bulldogs supporters if they can get one over Williams this time around. On a personal level, the Bulldogs' star English prop James Graham will also be keen for some revenge on Williams and his Kiwi teammate Frank Pritchard after New Zealand sent England crashing out of the World Cup on Graham's home turf.
Bulldogs v Knights
The Knights were somewhat of a bogy team for Canterbury in 2013. They thrashed the Bulldogs 44-9 at Hunter Stadium in May, beat them again 18-12 in Mackay in July, and finally knocked them out of the finals in the first week of the playoffs at ANZ in September.
In fact, the Bulldogs have struggled more against Newcastle than any other team in the NRL era. They've only won 41.4 per cent of games against the Knights since 1998. That's a trend Dogs fans will want to see ended soon.
There are several enticing match-ups in this clash: James Graham against Willie Mason up front; Josh Reynolds taking on Jarrod Mullen in the halves; and skippers Michael Ennis against Kurt Gidley lining up at hooker. On paper the teams are evenly matched, so there's no reason why Canterbury's losing trend can't be turned around in 2014.
Check back on NRL.com on Wednesday for details of your team's schedule with the release of the 2014 NRL Draw.