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Position after 13 rounds: 14th
Wins: 3
Losses: 9
Byes: 1
Points: 8
Differential: -30

IF you’d asked anyone at the start of the season where the Bulldogs would be sitting after 12 rounds, 14th and on the same points to have them equal second-last would not have been the answer. In fact, a response of comfortably sitting among the top eight… possibly top four… would have been far more likely.

But the first half of 2010 has been unkind to the Canterbury club in terms of injuries and an inability to field a consistent team, and it has taken its toll in terms of results for the pre-season competition favourites.

Now they’re staring down a hard run to the finals, if they’re to even qualify, needing a high win-percentage if they’re to stay in touch in an ultra-tight Telstra Premiership.

The injury toll to the Bulldogs’ forwards early in the season has meant consistency has been difficult to establish and in the title race, a good run with injuries plays a big role in keeping yourself in the running with the top sides. The loss of Ben Hannant for four games was a big blow, as the big prop was averaging 143 metres a game (second in the team only to Luke Patten) and it’s that kind of work rate that creates room for the backline to create chances. His return in recent weeks has been a boost, but he’s still working to establish game fitness and isn’t quite having the impact he was at the start of the season.

While the ’Dogs have slipped off the pace a bit when it comes to scoring points, they still rank second in the competition for line-breaks and tackle-breaks and third for metres gained.

But they are being hurt in the defence department, specifically offloads (second worst concession rate in the NRL) and metres conceded (12th overall).

Are Things Going To Plan?
No coach wants their side sitting anchored to the bottom half of the bottom half of the table by the season mid-point. The Bulldogs would have expected to be rated one of the sides to beat right now, but instead are feeling the heat to get more points on the board.

Their problem has been putting in an 80-minute effort. Lapses in concentration have allowed opponents to score quick tries and then they are forced to play catch-up. While their reputation for comebacks was once formidable, they’re yet to pull one off this season, and the three matches they’ve won have been by getting in front and staying there.

Injury Front…
There’ve been plenty. The ’Dogs have already used more players this season (29) than they did throughout the entire 2009.

The injury toll started before the season even began with new signing Corey Norman ruled out for the year with a shoulder injury, and other key addition Dene Halatau missing the opening two rounds and having only played three games so far this year. Michael Hodgson and Mickey Paea went down in Round 3 for four weeks and Ben Hannant was out for the same amount of time also, with a knee injury. And as well as the rotating forward pack, Ben Roberts has been out since hurting his ankle in the win over the Broncos in Round 7.

If Only…
They’d won their Round 1 match against the Knights; things might have been very different. Starting off on the right foot is so important these days and the reasons the Bulldogs lost that opening match are the reasons they are still losing games now.

Their early lapses allowed Newcastle to get out to an early lead and despite a strong second half from Canterbury they weren’t able to reel them back in. It was a warning sign of what was to come.

Who’s Flying… With the solid presence of Hazem El Masri missing this season, the first couple of rounds for Jamal Idris were a bit shaky with new wing partner Steve Turner.

But as the weeks have gone on, his stature and confidence grew, leading to a call-up for the NSW Blues. He’s among the best in the team when it comes to offloads (15), line-breaks (6), average metres gained (112) and tackle-breaks (64). Factor in his size (194cm and 115kg), his ability to leap as high as anyone in the Premiership, and put the big hits on some of the best (remember that match-up against Timana Tahu in Round 8?) and that’s one powerhouse centre with a big future!

Needs To Lift…
Despite injuries depleting their stocks, the Bulldogs’ forward pack have lost some sting. While David Stagg is tackling out of his skin – leading the NRL with 512 – and has the most offloads in the team with 20; and Ben Hannant takes the ball up like a steam train when he’s fit, the pack’s go-forward just hasn’t been effective enough.

They’re being caught napping around the ruck, leading to soft tries and the side being put on the back foot. If their big men can tighten it up and have more cohesion for the entirety of matches, they’ll be a tougher side to beat.

Coach Kevin Moore Tells…
“It’s just been a year where we’ve just struggled, probably, for cohesion and confidence. Right from the start, dropping that game against Newcastle and then going straight into a game against St George where Mick Ennis got suspended, then we lost Mickey Paea and Michael Hodgson for six weeks… The key for us is getting that cohesion that we had last year when we pretty much picked the same 17 week in, week out.

“And if we can get that top 17, or close to our top 17, back on the field and get some confidence and cohesion and get some wins under our belt over the next few weeks – that’s what we’re looking for.”

Predicted Finish…
The Bulldogs’ run to the finals features double the number of fixtures on the road as at home, and so far they’ve only managed one win of six away. With so many more sides above them playing consistent football at the moment, the finals are going to be too hard to reach – they’ll likely finish just a little higher than they are now.

Things started slow for the Toyota Cup team with their first win not until Round 8. But they’ve strung five wins together now to move up to 11th and continued strong performances from the likes of captain Martin Taupau, lock Dale Finucane and five-eighth Aidan Sezer should keep them in the running and progressing throughout the season.
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