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Canterbury Bulldogs: 2020 NRL season preview

Bulldogs fans were bracing themselves for a tough 2019 before round one and it was panning out that way before another late form spike offered a glimmer of hope.

But yet another long-term injury to star half Kieran Foran – who looked to be getting back to his football when on the field in 2019 – means 2020 is off to a rocky start.

The club will be hoping the significant improvement made by certain players and in certain areas last season results in a stronger campaign - and more early-season wins.

The club has made a couple of useful signings to bolster the forwards but otherwise will have to rely on its 2019 stocks to generate points.

Soward's Say: 2020 Bulldogs

The 2020 outlook

What's new

Back-rower Joe Stimson has joined from Melbourne while Dean Britt has moved across from the Bunnies to the club where his dad became a legend. Utility forward Sione Katoa has moved across from the Panthers and can play a role at hooker if required behind Jeremy Marshall-King.

The draw

After a round one blockbuster against the Eels, the Dogs have three winnable games against the Cowboys, Wests Tigers and Sharks, with two of those at ANZ Stadium. They also finish the season with a potentially gentle run against the Dragons, Panthers, Tigers and Knights.

They face the best three sides of 2019 (the Roosters, Raiders and Storm) just once each so there are no excuses about a tough draw.

Five key match-ups of the Bulldogs' 2020 draw

The stat that gives you hope

5-1, and 98-65.

That is Canterbury's win-loss record and for-and-against record over the final six rounds of the 2019 regular season. Their differential of +33 was sixth-best for that period but most encouragingly their 65 points conceded was just a point away from pace-setters the Roosters (64) for best the defence. A competition ladder for just those six rounds would feature Canterbury in third.

And yes, if you're a Bulldogs fan, you've heard this story before. The club had the fourth-best differential and third-best defence for the final six rounds of 2018 as they won four of their final six. Dean Pay and his men will be aiming to tap that momentum a little better this time around.

What you need to know NRL Fantasy-wise

"Will Hopoate ($621k) could be the highest-scoring centre in Fantasy this year and is also available at winger/fullback, but he doesn't come cheap. New recruit Joe Stimson ($390k) is a steal if he secures a starting spot, and Jeremy Marshall-King ($544k) could jump in value by around $150k if he gets at least 60 minutes a game at hooker – a role which traditionally nets him 47 points a game." - Lone Scout

Bulldogs coach Dean Pay.
Bulldogs coach Dean Pay. ©NRL Photos

The coach

Pay has done a reasonable job given the salary cap mess he inherited, with the club making some astute value signings and bringing through some talented youngsters. Pay's contract was extended for an extra year in early 2019, taking him through to the end of 2020. That means the coming season is a contract season for Pay and if the club is coming last halfway through the season – as they were in 2019 – he may struggle for another extension.

Contract matters

A good chunk of Canterbury's top side are locked in through to the end of 2021, with inspirational skipper Josh Jackson last season inking a long deal through 2023. The club also has impressive England prop Luke Thompson inbound for 2021 on a three-year deal. Notable off-contract players this year (at this stage) include Aiden Tolman, Sauaso Sue, Marcelo Montoya, Jack Cogger, Adam Elliott and Raymond Faitala-Mariner.

Bulldogs five-eighth Kieran Foran.
Bulldogs five-eighth Kieran Foran. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

The biggest off-contract name is Kieran Foran. In the final year of his three-year deal and still just 29, Foran is aiming to return from major shoulder surgery in the mid-late season. It's been a frustrating 24 months with injury for the Kiwi star, not least because his form has been so good when he has got on the field.

The burning question

Can Lachlan Lewis, Jack Cogger and Brandon Wakeham fill the Foran-sized hole? Each is talented but Cogger's 36 games makes him the most experienced of the young trio. It can be a long and gruelling season as a young playmaker if things don't go your way early.

Breakout player to watch

Talented young Kiwi Morgan Harper made his NRL debut in the round 25 win over Brisbane. Still just 21, the skilful centre starred in the club's 2018 reserve grade grand final win over Newtown, winning the subsequent state championship match against Redcliffe.

The quote

"We have just been working really hard through the off-season, we are just trying to build on what we finished off on last year. This year is a new season, we have got a few new players and we are just trying to build some continuity in these trials and getting ready for round 1." – Dean Pay