Bulldogs' Road to the Finals
Barba comes back to haunt old team
It couldn't have been scripted any worse for the Bulldogs in their season opener against the Broncos. With the genius plan to have former Canterbury fullback Ben Barba take on his former team in the first round, the club was primed for a big one. Problem was somebody forgot to tell Barba and the Broncos that. With Barba setting up his team's first try Brisbane proved too strong and prevailed 18-12 in game where they led from start to finish. Adding injury to insult on what was truly a night to forget, winger Mitch Brown was heavily concussed.
Bulldogs – the real deal?
After accounting for an injury-ravaged Cronulla outfit and backing it up with a close two-point loss to the Panthers, the Bulldogs announced to the world they were a real threat moving forward when they smashed competition heavyweights the Storm. While Melbourne lost inspirational captain Cameron Smith in the warm-up, the club would've struggled to stop the onslaught anyway with seven separate Bulldogs scoring tries to peg back Melbourne's 12-0 lead after 14 minutes with 40 unanswered points. Their win, over in Perth of all places, kicked off a prosperous seven-game winning streak.
Field goal wins not one, not two, but three consecutive games
You didn't read wrong. Midway through their seven game streak, the Bulldogs snuck away with three consecutive one-point wins! On a rainy Friday night in Round 5, five-eighth Josh Reynolds was able to help the Dogs beat the Roosters with a field goal which proved to be the only point scored in the second half of their 9-8 win. Nine days later, a Trent Hodkinson field goal accounted for a resurgent Warriors team 21-20 in the final minute, despite Canterbury being down 20-12 with 13 minutes to go. Not to be outdone, the halfback was at it again five days later when he took down the Rabbitohs with a one-pointer to sneak away with a 15-14 win with two minutes to spare.
Seven heaven ends with Chooks
Round 11 was a give-and-take week for the Bulldogs. While their good form saw further wins over Newcastle, St George Illawarra and the Warriors (again) and a quartet of men in Reynolds, Hodkinson, Tony Williams and Josh Morris shipped off for New South Wales Origin duty, their winning run would come to an end against the Roosters. With a demoted James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce at the helm for the Roosters and Sonny Bill Williams playing one of his better games of the year, the Tricolours triumphed to the noise of a 32-12 flogging.
Hodkinson heroics sink Queensland, Canberra
With the club heavily represented in the Origin arena, the Bulldogs' next win didn't come until Round 15 when Hodkinson and Reynolds returned to help produce a 22-14 win over Canberra. Only two days earlier, with a dummy and a step, Hodkinson had been the toast of the state when he scored the match-winning try and high-pressure conversion to clinch the Blues' first series win since 2005. Down in the nations' capital Hodkinson backed up strongly – despite being ruled out earlier in the day – to help the Dogs earn their first win in a month.
T-Rex? Halfback? Tell us you're dreaming Des!
With their halves duo shipped off to Brisbane for Origin III, back-rowers Tony Williams and Josh Jackson were handed the reins to the halves ship with young backup Moses Mbye injured and other options proving not worthy enough. It somehow proved to be a masterstroke with T-Rex producing the goods and Michael Ennis maintaining his sensational form in the Doggies' 23-16 win over the Daly Cherry-Evans-less Sea Eagles.
A+ for defence... But lightning doesn't strike twice
The second showing of the year between the Storm and the Dogs in Round 18 was something special. It wasn't flashy but the grit and pure defensive effort made it memorable in its own way with the Bulldogs finishing 6-4 victors. It was the desperate defence and clinical ball control – with both clubs making only four errors each – that saw the Melbourne locals treated to another side of rugby league. With a Sam Kasiano try just after half-time and some terrific goal-line defence, Canterbury stood tall as victors. Not that it mattered eight days later when the Tigers dismantled them 46-18 with a loss that began their mid-season slump.
Broncos' barnstorm causes Reynolds brain snap
The lowest point of the Bulldogs' season came with their fourth straight loss in Round 22 against the Broncos, this one a 41-10 thumping. Despite holding an early 6-0 lead, the Bulldogs were no match for Brisbane who were desperately clinging to their finals hopes. Five-eighth Reynolds saw red by game's end and after kicking Sam Thaiday, tripping Barba and whacking Alex Glenn high was sin-binned – where he took his troubles out on a poor plastic chair. He was consequently suspended for three matches meaning he heads into the finals having only played with halves partner Hodkinson three times since Origin III.
Ballboy dilemma steals the headlines
Staring down the barrel of five straight losses, the Bulldogs headed towards a do-or-die game with the Parramatta Eels with the winner looking at a top eight spot for the remainder of the weekend. In a tough and tight game in which back-rower Jackson was knocked out cold, the Bulldogs prevailed 18-16 – although it didn't come without controversy. With mere minutes remaining a Chris Sandow 40/20 saw the Eels handed one last crack at the line – problem was the ballboy passed the ball to winger Vai Toutai, failing to place the ball down on the touchline as required. Throw in the fact that Sandow didn't tap the ball probably before diving over the tryline and the try was disallowed, meaning the Doggies had their first win in five weeks.
Regular season ends with a whimper
Des Hasler said it all by saying not much at all after the Gold Coast accounted for the Dogs 19-18 in golden point in Round 26. His two-minute press conference, where he practically apologised to the fans for his team's abysmal effort, reflected the angst of his side's failure to stop the Titans' 19 unanswered points. Although Josh Reynolds had returned in a bid to help his team hopefully bounce back from their 21-14 loss to the Rabbitohs the week prior, it simply wasn't enough with the farewell of Mark Minichiello from the NRL proving a catalyst for a Gold Coast victory. With the team slotting into seventh spot, they will now head down to Melbourne on Sunday to take on the Storm.