Much discussion is currently taking place around the Bulldogs’ starting lineup for Round 1 of the new NRL season.
There are some rather wacky theories and ideas, as well as much well considered analysis and opinion. I’m sure coach Dean Pay isn’t following social media and taking all the advice yet his selection decisions are made difficult by the apparent competition for positions in the squad.
With just 11 days until kick-off, the Bulldogs are fit and hungry. Injuries aside, this is the team that Pay should/will send onto the field against the Warriors at Mount Smart Stadium on March 16th and the reasons why.
Fullback – Will Hopoate
Calls for Nick Meaney to start the season at fullback are premature. Whilst Hopoate may not be the most attacking and dynamic fullback with the ball in hand, he is an astute footballer and a rock at the back for the blue and whites. It would be nothing but foolhardy to attempt to strengthen a weakness by playing him elsewhere.
Wingers – Reimis Smith and Christian Crichton
Smith is a walk up start after a stunning 2018 and the most lethal and dangerous weapon in the Bulldogs’ back line. Crichton has a long way to go in terms of fully developing as a player yet he does look promising and brings an impressive level of aggression and enthusiasm.
Centres – Kerrod Holland and Marcelo Montoya
The Bulldogs have more concerns over the centre positions than almost any others of the field. Holland’s defensive reads left a lot to be desired in 2018, with the dramatic loss to the Raiders a case in point. He did look good in the recent trial and Pay will hope that the work done on his defensive decision making sees him develop into a well rounded centre.
Montoya makes this predicted team on default rather than performance. The reality is that Meaney, Jayden Okunbor, Morgan Harper and others appear nowhere near ready for the rigours of consistent NRL play and Montoya is the best option available at this point in the season.
Five-Eighth – Kieran Foran
If there a more anticipated return to the competition that Foran’s in 2019, I’m struggling to think what it might be. The blunt reality is, that a fit and firing Foran makes the Bulldogs a serious attacking threat. His ability to straighten an attack and play at the line is unquestioned. Conversely, another riddled season will break his and the fans’ hearts, as they slowly watch a once great footballer drift into the abyss of retirement.
Foran’s best will not come until late in the season. After an extended period out of the game and with a new combination still to be struck with Lachlan Lewis, it will take time to produce his old self. The Bulldogs will be hoping he stays on the field long enough for that to happen.
Half-back – Lachlan Lewis
After a break out 2018, Lewis will be pressured immensely this season, with opposition teams recognising the time he appears to have on the ball. They will potentially run much traffic in his direction as well, knowing that his size means attention to detail and diligence in defence.
Lewis will handle it, just as he did last year and enjoy another fine season as one of the most promising players to emerge from the kennel in some time.
Back Rowers – Josh Jackson, Raymond Faitala-Mariner and Adam Elliott
The absence of Faitala-Mariner for much of 2018 was a huge blow to the Dogs and should never be underestimated. He and Jackson combine to form one of the best combinations in the competition. Pay will reward Elliott after a wonderful 2018 where he exceeded many people’s expectations of his ability, however it will not be too long before Corey Harawira-Naera and Sauaso Sue push hard for a starting spot somewhere in the pack.
Hooker – Michael Lichaa
The reality for Lichaa is that this is a make or break year. After a stifled role under the previous coach (he who shall not be named) there were signs of a new and more attacking Lichaa in late 2017. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into a boon year in 2018. Injuries played a role yet with an excellent off-season under his belt, the moment has arrived for the 25 year-old.
The off-season will have been spent developing his passing work around the edge of the ruck and developing his decision making and speed from dummy-half. The reality is that the Bulldogs have lacked impact from the hooker position for some years now. Players like Damien Cook and Cameron McInness are revolutionising the role and if Lichaa can make himself similarly dangerous, the Bulldogs will benefit greatly.
Front row – Dylan Napa and Aiden Tolman
As the dust settles on the Bulldogs’ sex tape scandal and other clubs now take the heat, Napa can finally focus 100 per cent on football. His start to the trial match was excellent and if effort does guarantee results, he will certainly get the job done.
Along with the ever reliable Tolman, they form an effective combination that could provide the platform for a number of wins; on the back of their tireless effort through the middle and the metres they make.
Bench – Sauaso Sue, Corey Harawira-Naera, Danny Fualalo and Rhyse Martin
Whilst Martin does appear a little on the outer at the minute, his performances last season were superb. Sue, Harawira-Naera and Fualalo all add punch to the forward thrust. There is no room for Jeremy Marshall-King in the starting team in my view. Defensively questionable, he still needs to develop as a player if he is to become a consistent first grader.
The buzz around the Bulldogs is immense and as the season begins much will be discovered about the changes and development that Dean Pay has overseen. At this stage they loom as a potential surprise packet or an unfinished team still recovering from salary cap mismanagement.
Whichever way it pans out in 2019, the Bulldogs will be a fascinating case study to watch.