BULLDOGS - 2009 Season Preview

<p>THE good news for Bulldogs fans is they can’t finish any worse than last year.</p><p> And they have implemented their own ‘stimulus package’ by recruiting aggressively to ensure the bite returns to back up the bark in 2009.</p><p> When history records the 2008 season for the ’Dogs, they might as well just say that everything that could go wrong did – and as a result the very proud club suffered the ignominy of receiving their fifth wooden spoon.</p><p> And this one was earned on the field rather than off it (the Bulldogs finished last in 2002 due to salary cap breaches).</p><p> But the beauty of life is that time marches on and in rugby league a new year comes with new hope and new chances to make things right. New team, new coach, new attitude. Yep, it seems the ’Dogs are back.</p><p> <strong>How They’ll Play It</strong></p> Despite the fact new coach Kevin Moore has been an assistant at the club for years there is still a bit of mystery on just how the Bulldogs will play this season.</p><p> With so much upheaval, a new halfback (Brett Kimmorley), new hooker (Michael Ennis), new forwards (the likes of Ben Hannant and David Stagg) and new outside backs (see below) it is going to take time to work out what style will suit the squad best.</p><p> One thing is for sure: the side needs to score more points and break the line more often. To do this they just might need to chance their hand.</p><p> A lot will fall on hooker Ennis, as halfback Kimmorley’s best attacking days are probably past him. Ennis will need to control the play and ensure when the chances come, he helps exploit them. </p><p> <strong>Keep An Eye On</strong></p> The battle for spots in the outside backs. The Bulldogs unearthed the likes of Jamal Idris and Tim Winitana in the centres last season and now they have added more depth to the area, making the fight for spots intense.</p><p> Along with Idris and Winitana there are the likes of Bryson Goodwin, Yileen Gordon, Daryl Millard and Josh Morris plus wingers Matt Utai, Heka Nanai and Hazem El Masri, so the loss of Willie Tonga shouldn’t be felt too much.</p><p> As a side that has struggled to score points in recent seasons, the extra firepower will be more than welcomed.</p><p> <strong>They’ll Really Miss</strong></p> It’s entirely possible the Bulldogs won’t miss anyone they let go. Their recruitment has been inspired and should cover their losses. Willie Tonga has been adequately replaced, as has Corey Hughes, while Reni Maitua and Sonny Bill Williams caused more trouble than they were worth during their stints at the club.</p><p> The latter two certainly had talent but the reality of it was the Bulldogs fans rarely got to see it in practice, which led to a great deal of fan frustration more than anything else.</p><p> <strong>It’s Time To Stand Up</strong></p> Some of the ’Dogs fringe forwards need to up the ante in 2009 to restore the club’s reputation. Players like Nick Kouparitsas, Charlie Leaeno, Lee Te Maari, Danny Williams and Gary Warburton have to start making names for themselves or they risk being ‘Nevilles’ in the rugby league annals.</p><p> It is also well and truly time for either one or both of halves Daniel Holdsworth and Ben Roberts to stand and deliver. We have been privy to glimpses of brilliance from both over the past few seasons but consistency has been their real problem.</p><p> <strong>Coach Watch</strong></p> Kevin Moore steps up to the plate after years in the lower grades and as an assistant at the top level. With a fresh squad and a fresh start Moore has the opportunity to hit the ground running but should the Bulldogs continue to lack bite it will be interesting to see how much faith those in the kennel have for the son of the late ‘Bullfrog’.</p><p> Surely he’ll be given ample time … but one can never be so sure with these things. Just ask Paul Langmack, Grant Bell, Keiran Dempsey… the list goes on.</p><p> <strong>They’re All The Better For</strong></p> The Brisbane trio of Michael Ennis, Ben Hannant and David Stagg are the pick of the recruits.</p><p> All three know what it takes to win and Ennis in particular will do whatever it takes to come out on the right side of the scoreboard.</p><p> Ennis is a scrapper, the type of player who gets under the skin of others and gets them off their games. Think Benny Elias.</p><p> As for Hannant and Stagg, the former will provide a great platform and the latter will tackle his heart out for 80 minutes.</p><p> The pace and line-breaking ability of Josh Morris should also come in handy.</p><p> <strong>Predicted Finish</strong></p> The Bulldogs will definitely improve on last year’s showing but the finals aren’t likely for the blue-and-whites.</p><p> With some luck they can certainly challenge for a place in the lower half of the eight but more likely they’ll finish somewhere between ninth and 11th.</p><p> <strong>Under-20s</strong></p> The Bulldogs finished the inaugural Toyota Cup season in seventh position, losing in the first week of the finals.</p><p> In 2009 they will once again be hoping point-scoring whiz Ben Barba leads the way, assuming he’s not in the top grade. They will certainly play an entertaining brand of footy.</p><p> <strong>New Breed</strong></p> Last season Daniel Harrison achieved almost all he could in the Toyota Cup. Member of the Toyota Cup Team of the Year? Tick. The Bulldogs’ Toyota Cup Player of the Year? Tick. Captaincy of his team? Tick. And that’s just the reason why he’s got his eyes on a bigger prize this year.</p><p> Keep an eye out for more on Daniel Harrison when NRL.com brings you New Breed profiles in the coming weeks.</p>