Mid-season Report Card: Bulldogs

BULLDOGS
Mid-season Report Card


Position after 13 rounds:
2nd
Wins: 8
Losses: 3
Points: 18
Points diff: +78

No side has enjoyed such a dramatic rise in fortunes this season as the Bulldogs. Wooden-spooners 12 months ago, this once great club took a gamble by sacking coach Steve Folkes – the man who delivered a premiership in 2004 – and clearing out the remnants of their dramatic fall from grace in recent seasons.

Among those on the chopping block were Reni Maitua, Corey Hughes and Willie Tonga, while Sonny Bill Williams had already been lost after walking out mid-season.

But with a fresh slate came a fresh outlook and the Bulldogs were by far the most active club in the market ahead of 2009 with halfback Brett Kimmorley, speedster Josh Morris and forwards Ben Hannant, Michael Ennis, Greg Eastwood, David Stagg and Michael Hodgson all coming in.

The results have come instantly and dramatically. Midway through the season the Bulldogs sit in second spot on the NRL ladder and could well be alone out front were it not for two dramatic happenings: the loss of two competition points after fielding an extra man in their Round 2 win over Penrith and a poor video refereeing decision that cost them a late win over St George Illawarra in Round 10.

Are Things Going To Plan? The Bulldogs have been the most consistent side in the NRL this season. While much was expected of the club this season – significant improvement at the very least – their opening round 34-12 demolition of premiers Manly showed that new coach Kevin Moore had loftier goals in his sights. Setting that unlucky loss to St George Illawarra aside, the Bulldogs have lost just two other times in tough away encounters against the Gold Coast and Newcastle. Moore couldn’t have asked for much more from his new-look squad.

Injury Front… A foot injury to Josh Morris saw him sidelined since Round 6 but he’s been named for Round 14. The club’s biggest concern is prop Ben Hannant, who was this week diagnosed with ‘swine flu’ and ordered to remain away from the Bulldogs’ squad. The club can consider itself fortunate that State of Origin commitments had seen the Queensland prop spend the previous two weeks well away from his Bulldogs team-mates. He’s been named to play this week too – meaning they have all hands on deck. A truly enviable position to be in.

If Only… Luck hasn’t favoured the Bulldogs this season, which makes the fact that they still remain alongside St George Illawarra, the Gold Coast and Brisbane at the top of the NRL ladder even more remarkable.

The Bulldogs were docked two competition points, after downing Penrith in Round 2, for having an extra man on the field when they scored the winning try, with debate at the time centering on whether or not he played any part. They also had what was almost certainly a fair try in the final minute of their 20-18 loss to St George Illawarra in Round 10 denied for an obstruction when it appeared Dragons five-eighth Jamie Soward was no chance of catching a runaway Luke Patten anyway. Add those competition points and the Bulldogs would be four points clear at the top of the table. 

Who’s Flying… Hooker Michael Ennis has played a huge role in the Bulldogs’ rise this season. Ennis is typical of the great Bulldogs sides of the past – a tough and relentless competitor who loves to win ugly. So impressive was Ennis’ early season form that he very nearly usurped Wests Tigers star Robbie Farah for the NSW hooking role.

Needs To Lift… The pressure is on playmaker Daniel Holdsworth to win the five-eighth role back from Ben Roberts, who has been in fine form alongside Brett Kimmorley this season. Truth be told though, it would be harsh to criticise any Bulldogs player this season, given their consistently strong form over the opening 13 rounds.

Kevin Moore Tells NRL.com… “The priority over the off-season was to build some combinations and some camaraderie among the group, and we’ve come together really well. The attitude has been good and certainly the performances on the field have been really consistent. We’ve lost three games by less than eight points and I think everyone realises that one of them should have been a victory. We’ve overcome some adversity and I think that reflects the fact that we are a very strong group.

Predicted Finish… The Bulldogs are the only side to be truly competitive in every single match they’ve played this season – their biggest loss being by just eight points – and if that continues they are a top-four certainty.

Under-20s… The Bulldogs find themselves in fifth spot on the Toyota Cup ladder but enjoy a five-point gap between themselves and ninth-placed Brisbane – quite an achievement for a side that Moore describes as being in a rebuilding phase.

“Last year we had a really strong year with four blokes that came through to first grade so this year is more of a rebuilding year,” Moore said. “The most pleasing thing from a development point of view this year is that we’ve won both Harold Mathews and SG Ball so we’ve got plenty of young talent coming through.”

The Bulldogs see Toyota Cup props Pakisonasi Afu and Martin Taupau as future NRL prospects.