While the Sydney Roosters struggle in last place despite boasting four members of the Bulldogs’ impressive 2004 premiership side, Ryan’s men find themselves nestled once more at the top of the tree and ready to make a run at a ninth title.
Ryan stopped short of pointing to the Roosters’ current woes but said evolution of the NRL had reduced the impact of no-fuss forwards such as Willie Mason, Mark O’Meley and South Sydney prop Roy Asotasi.
“It was a very different game back then – you can’t even compare them,” Ryan said in the wake of his side’s impressive 44-22 disposal of Brisbane last Friday night.
“In that game in 2004 we had Mason, O’Meley and Asotasi – guys that would plough through the middle – whereas these days you need to be more skills-based.
“You look at the squad we’ve got this year, we’ve got Michael Ennis who has made a massive difference the dummy-half area plus in the halves we’ve brought in Brett Kimmorley.
“So I think we’re a fair bit different to that 2004 squad.
“But it’s also the depth we’ve got this season as opposed to 12 months ago.”
The Bulldogs have undergone a rapid transformation in recent seasons, having seen Sonny Bill Williams and Mason walk out while Reni Maitua was sacked for repeated disciplinary offences.
In fact, only three players – Ryan, Patten and El Masri – remain from that 2004 grand final side with a total of 11 players departing following last year’s wooden spoon finish.
The club responded by spending big in the off-season with Ennis and Kimmorley joined by Ben Hannant, David Stagg, Greg Eastwood, Michael Hodgson, Josh Morris, Bryson Goodwin and Yileen Gordon.
“It’s a very different feeling around the place – a lot of changes have gone on,” Ryan said.
“I don’t want to reflect too much on the past but we didn’t have the players or the depth, plus key players were out.
“This year we’ve got that depth and there is a good mood in general around the place.”
Tellingly, the Bulldogs’ biggest loss of the season – and there have only been three – was by just eight points against Newcastle in Round 12.
But Ryan refused to read too much into his side’s disposal of fellow heavyweights Brisbane on Friday, admitting that coach Kevin Moore had mentioned the Broncos’ interrupted week – when the entire squad was placed in quarantine due to swine flu fears – during his half-time address (and with the Bulldogs trailing 18-16).
“It had been a pretty draining week for them and they weren’t fully on their game,” Ryan said.
“It wasn’t something that was spoken about during the week, but more at half-time with the way the game was going.
“We thought if we could clean up some of our defence that we were creating enough opportunities to score.
“We thought that if we could keep turning them around they would probably fade and we would score some late tries… that’s what happened.”
Ryan said that he was particularly impressed by the Bulldogs’ ability to shake off disappointment yet again this season after they shot to an early 10-0 lead against Brisbane only to trail at the break.
“It’s certainly something that has been pretty good for us in most games this year,” he said.
“We’ve had plenty of disappointment at times and there are some games that could have gone either way but we’ve never panicked.
“It’s a good sign that we can still do that.”