With an annual general meeting looming at the kennel in the New Year, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have much planning, thinking and adjusting to do ahead of 2018.
With the appointments of new CEO Andrew Hill and senior coach Dean Pay, the departure of Jim Dymock, and the pending arrival of major signings Aaron Woods and Kieran Foran, the club will look decidedly different.
Having Steve Mortimer and other greats back in the fold will have appeased the supporter base to some degree, however the angst felt towards Ray Dib from many quarters will still be palpable.
Many still shake their heads at how he oversaw such a tumultuous time, forced a legend out, and absurdly denied the issues as the team became more and more uncompetitive.
Wherever things fall, watching Manly, Newcastle and St George-Illawarra all at varying stages of their rebuilds, it is clear that the task ahead is monumental.
To get it right, some simple and plain truths need to be faced and a clear plan of attack developed.
Support Dean Pay
Make no mistake about it, the current squad is not Dean Pay’s team.
With some questionable back-ended contracts, new acquisitions and the absence of departing legends, the coach has had no input regarding the personnel at his disposal.
Hopefully 2018 sees ‘better’ football but whether we see ‘great’ football is questionable. A consistent reminder of this fact to the supporter base is important, as Pay sets about moulding his team in the way he best sees fit.
Turn up in droves and never become the ambivalent fan-base
If there is one thing that Bulldogs fans have traditionally done well, it is turn up. Far from fickle, their working-class roots and a generally successful and competitive squad have seen supporters mostly lean towards a glass that is half-full.
This much was evident in the final three matches of 2017, as the faithful rallied behind both departing and unwanted players who had been ‘shopped around’ to solve salary cap issues. With early-season pain a possibility, a swelling ANZ Stadium will be important.
Don’t be side-tracked by off-field nonsense
For the first time in my living memory, the Bulldogs’ focus appeared on anything but football over the course of 2017.
Conjecture around Des Hasler, the strange decision to re-appoint him and subsequently terminate his contract, as well as players unsure of their whereabouts until even late in the year, combined to make the day-to-day challenge of winning games something of an after-thought.
Getting the house back in order is key if success on the field is to follow.
Install a united board
Whether the current board is maintained or another ticket seeks to represent the frustrations of the members and assumes control, the people at the helm of one of the most powerful and well supported clubs in the land must be united, proactive and consistent in its message.
Calling a spade a shovel and acknowledging some poor decisions and flawed thinking is vital, and the ‘head in the sand’ approach of 2017 will be accepted no more.
Play an attacking brand of football
A fundamental change that Pay will make in the earliest days of his reign will be the side’s style of football.
The stifled attack of recent seasons needs an injection of flair, risk and creativity, but without over-reaching and moving to a razzle-dazzle style of endless off-loads and dangerous passing – a balance needs to be struck.
A clear awareness of risk versus reward needs to be ingrained, as 2017 saw little enterprise as evidenced by the squad’s point-scoring statistics.
With what will be another powerful forward pack, the blue and whites will remain true to their roots and use the big men as their key weapons. However, with deft interchange of passing around the rucks and structured backline manoeuvres extending well beyond disjointed ‘block plays’, more danger and potency can be added to the Dogs’ attacking threat.
Co-incidentally, the style of play Pay used throughout this career might prove a healthy blueprint.
A major re-think around the positional demands on Moses Mbye should be a first port of call, and with a fit and hungry Kieran Foran pairing in the halves with Matt Frawley, Mbye could be freed up to play more naturally at fullback.
A move to the centres for Will Hopoate to partner Brenko Lee seems likely, and the ever-improving Marcelo Montoya will be a more dangerous proposition with the experience he gained last season.
Josh Jackson will continue to be the inspiration up front, yet the added off-load potential of Woods will have the most noticeable effect.
However Pay chooses to expand the game-plan, it will be interesting to watch.
Much has been made of the Dogs culture, legends such as Terry Lamb and Steve Mortimer dared suggest that the powers that be seemed unsure of its nature and 2017’s performances suggest their claims might be accurate.
What is certain, is the fact that a long and slow rebuild is required to return the club to its former glory. What’s more, the path will be far clearer when the members air their grievances in February.
However, for all involved, it is a necessary process and one that could provide much-needed healing for a club seeking vision after a catastrophic year.