Bulldogs 2017 season review
It was a season of frustration at Belmore with the Bulldogs missing the finals for the first time since Des Hasler joined the club in 2012.
Still boasting a quality roster stacked with representative experience and a pack of talented big men, few could have predicted just how alarming the Bulldogs' slide would be as a misfiring attack did little to inspire confidence among their passionate supporter base.
While it may be remembered as a disappointing campaign a run of three straight victories to end the season saw Canterbury jump to 11th on the Telstra Premiership ladder after 26 rounds, the Bulldogs finally hitting the 30-point mark in a game in their Round 24 win over the finals-bound Sea Eagles.
That late-season charge coupled with a few key recruits means there are quite a few positives the Dogs can take into the end-of-year break.
Where they excelled: It wasn't all doom and gloom for the Bulldogs with Hasler's men still tidy in defence. They had the fewest missed tackles in the competition (605, compared to Melbourne's 709) and conceded the fourth fewest tries (75). They also got through plenty of work, finishing third for total runs (4265) ahead of the Broncos (4263) and Storm (4238).
Where they struggled: The Bulldogs' attack was their most obvious – and worrying – concern of the season. At times static and uninspired, they averaged 15 points per game in 2017 and the numbers don't make for great reading. Canterbury finished last for points scored (360), tries (65), try assists (44), goals (50) and line breaks (77). To put that in perspective the Wests Tigers were the second worst attacking team in the league and outscored the Dogs by 53, while the Storm ended the regular season with 633 points to their name.
Missing in action: James Graham spent a month on the sidelines following neck surgery but finished the year strongly, Greg Eastwood didn't play after Round 16 with a knee injury ending his season prematurely, fullback Will Hopoate missed six weeks early in the year with a facial fracture, while Origin selection and injury restricted Brett Morris to 18 appearances. Josh Reynolds' final campaign in blue and white was also hampered by injury. Hamstring and calf issues meant the departing local junior made just 17 appearances with Reynolds limping off with a high ankle sprain after scoring a try in his final Bulldogs appearance.
Turning point: It was very much a case of too little too late but the Bulldogs' much-maligned attack finally clicked in Round 24 as they sent the Sea Eagles packing 30-16. That result sparked their late-season surge with victories over the Titans and Dragons, with Moses Mbye strong back in the halves after a stint at hooker and Michael Lichaa showing dynamism out of dummy-half in his final games for the club.
Hold your head high: Aiden Tolman. The front-row workhorse was at his defensive best in 2017, getting through 909 tackles, the third-highest total in the NRL. Tolman was one of three players (along with Adam Elliott and Danny Fualalo) to feature in all 24 possible matches and played the full 80 minutes on four occasions.
Will Hopoate also averaged 178 metres per game and was safe at the back for much of the year. He scored his first try of 2017 in Round 25 and quickly followed it up with one more in that game and a third against the Dragons on the last day of the regular season, his phenomenal final-round performance a sign he could return to his best in 2018 after signing a long-term deal to remain at the club.
2018 crystal ball: With favourite son Reynolds joining Sam Kasiano, Michael Lichaa, Craig Garvey and Tyrone Phillips as the players to depart the club and talk others could soon follow, 2018 represents somewhat of a fresh start for the Bulldogs. Aaron Woods will add to an already impressive group of forwards while much of the attention will fall on Canterbury's other marquee man Kieran Foran. While injuries plagued his brief stint in Auckland, if Foran can rediscover anywhere near his best the Bulldogs are a good chance of returning to the top eight.
Conclusion: The 2018 off-season presents Hasler with perhaps his most significant challenge at Canterbury to date. There's no denying they were well below par for most of 2017 and their attack will need a drastic overhaul, but given their sound defence and the quality of their recruits there should be cause for optimism ahead of next year's campaign.
Home Record: 7-5
Away Record: 3-9
Longest Winning Streak: 3 (Round 5-7, 24-26)
Longest Losing Streak: 4 (Round 10-13, 20-23)
Players Used: 25
Tries Scored: 65
Tries Conceded: 75