It is hard to believe that in just 48 days time, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will return to the field and begin their 2019 premiership campaign.
After administrative changes, considerable player movement and the on-field improvement of late 2018, it promises to be a season of growth, hope and potentially, the unexpected.
Most Bulldogs fans feel a sense of renewal; with names like Anderson, Mortimer, Price and Dunn stalking the corridors of power. There is also a fresh and enthusiastic group of young men ready to perform on the field, under the leadership of coach Dean Pay.
Some of those young men appear poised to burst into the focus of the entire rugby league community, similar to those famous names of the late 1970’s who emerged from the lower grades to become legends of the club and the game itself.
Along with some exciting new signings, the blue and whites are one of the most unpredictable teams heading into the season. There will be an air of nervousness early on, yet if the messages emanating from pre-season training are even close to accurate, the Bulldogs might have a trick or two up their sleeve in 2019.
So what does the season look like? Round 1 presents a challenging opening match across the ditch against the dangerous Warriors before the boys in blue return home to tackle the Eels in their first home match of the season on March 24th.
What follows is a run of afternoon games with the Tigers, Storm, Dragons and Bunnies on the menu before the season heads into May and a tricky run of three consecutive away matches to the Eagles, Knights and Titans. The Newcastle game forms part of the experimental ‘Magic Round’ where Suncorp Stadium plays host to all eight matches.
Many fans will have the 26th of May etched into the diary already, when the club celebrates its annual return to Belmore Sports Ground with the now traditional dust-up with the Storm. Three Sydney derbies lead into the Round 16 bye, with the Dragons, Roosters and Sharks lining up in consecutive weeks, before a series of night matches through the depths of winter take centre stage.
After an exciting return clash with the Eels at the newly built Western Sydney Stadium (Bankwest Stadium), the Bulldogs finish the season against pesky Queenslanders, playing the Cowboys in the penultimate round and the Broncos at ANZ to finish off the home and away fixtures.
The Bulldogs’ full NRL season draw can be viewed here,
After some sniffing around those in the know, the general feeling is certainly one of optimism. The word from the inner-sanctum is that there is a unity and cohesion in the group; not seen for some time.
In 2018, it became clear that certain departing players were a little less focused on team than their own achievements, and quite frankly, their comments and behaviour since departure has supported that view.
The current group have adhered to the strong messages of unity and common cause that Chair Lynne Anderson has attempted to encourage. When combined with Dean Pay’s firm belief in the simple philosophies of Lynne’s late father Peter Moore, it places both well and truly on the same page as the season approaches.
Captain Josh Jackson is champing at the bit to lead his chargers onto the field after a successful shoulder surgery. After the off-field distractions of late 2018, Adam Elliot has taken on a leadership role and become a positive and motivational influence on the younger members of the squad.
Reimis Smith, Lachlan Lewis and Rhyse Martin are prancing around the training track like cats on a hot tin roof and the news around Kieran Foran couldn’t be more positive with the Kiwi International failing to miss a beat in training and starting to build an impressive base fitness level.
The same can be said of Raymond Faitala-Mariner, a man whose influence was missed for much of 2018.
Extensive work has been done with Marcelo Montoya, Kerrod Holland, John Olive and Will Hopoate in an attempt to solve some of the defensive failings of last season and the news around Michael Lichaa is promising.
After something of a disappointing 2018 where the 25 year-old played in some discomfort, high performance guru Tony Ayoub’s arrival at the club has re-invigorated his body and preparations for the upcoming season. Lichaa is confident that this will be a ground breaking and career defining year for him.
The new signings are fit, firing and keen to impress Dean Pay in the pre-season trials. Corey Harawira-Naera and Sauaso Sue look astonishing on the track; powerful, jovial and popular, they may just be the perfect accompaniments to an already strong Bulldog pack.
Christian Crichton will push for a starting birth early in the season and despite media reports, Dylan Napa is ready to rumble. The clubs controversial new signing has impressed all and sundry. He wants to put all the nonsense behind and let his actions speak far louder than a vengeful meme.
Dean Pay took on a momentous task in 2018. Early on, he may have questioned his decision. Some poor performances and atrocious refereeing snatched points away early yet in the final third of the home and away season, the squad began to trust each other and despite lacking depth, played their best football of the season.
With injured players now back, a smattering of promising new signings and another season of development looming for the youngsters, Pay now has some impressive tools at his disposal. With the increase in speed across the field, Pay should be able to expand the attacking potency of the squad. It is something that has held the team back in recent years, with point scoring an issue against the top sides.
Bulldogs 2019 Squad
Adam Elliott, Aiden Tolman, Brandon Wakeham, Chris Smith, Christian Crichton, Corey Harawira-Naera, Danny Fualalo, Fa’amanu Brown, Francis Tualau, Jack Cogger, Jayden Okunbor, Jeremy Marshall-King, John Olive, Josh Jackson, Kerrod Holland, Kieran Foran, Lachlan Lewis, Marcelo Montoya, Dylan Napa, Michael Lichaa, Nick Meaney, Ofahiki Ogden, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Reimis Smith, Renouf To’omaga, Rhyse Martin, Sauaso Sue, Will Hopoate, Zac Saddler
In the cut-throat world of rugby league, numbers rule.
The Bulldogs will play 24 matches against 15 clubs in an attempt to earn the 32 competition points required to ensure semi-final play. That equates to 15 wins and a bye.
To achieve it, the blue and whites will need to improve their points for and points against columns, metres gained, tries scored and line breaks made. A few more effective off-loads would also help and a relatively injury free run might be the most valuable statistic in a potentially successful year.
As it stands, that all sounds a little challenging and right now, the Bulldogs are a firm $4.00 favourite to collect the wooden spoon.
However, there is something powerfully rejuvenating about the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. Their history is littered with tough people, tough attitudes and resilience. If they are able to harness all three in 2019, who knows how far they can go?