If there is one thing that is important to a rugby league fan in Australia, it is knowing exactly what you are up against. Doing so, brings a comfortable reality to each match and season.
Understanding that Melbourne will bring the wrestle and control the ruck via tactics that push the patience of the referees is important. As is expecting the Roosters to turn up to your home ground with a zillion dollar squad that nobody can work out how they afford.
Every team has an identity. The Warriors mentally disintegrate, Sharks whinge and whine and the Rabbitohs play a grubby style that ironically defies their claims of being the ‘pride’ of the league.
So too the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs; traditionally a tough and uncompromising team, the blue and whites have become something quite different in recent years.
After poor salary cap management, some questionable acquisitions and leaving itself hamstrung in terms of bringing new players to the club, the Bulldogs became the whipping boy for many opposition teams over the past two seasons.
Most seemed happy with this; clubs chuckled at the thought of visiting ANZ Stadium and walking away with an easy two points against a young, inexperienced and shallow roster that was never going to threaten some of the big guns of the NRL.
The slide began in 2017 with an 11th placed finish, worsened in 2018 as the club scrapped a few late wins to claw itself to 12th and appeared to have reached new lows early in 2019.
After 14 rounds, the Bulldogs had assumed a snug spot at the foot of the ladder after just three wins and it was an array of beatings that sent them there.
The Warriors, Dragons, Roosters and Eels all had field days against them and the fallout was significant. Media pounced and made sure that the club felt the full emotional brunt of their lowly position.
Coach Dean Pay was labelled somewhat mad and distant, after a series of selection decisions that confused many on the outside. Players’ effort and talent were called into question, with the backs labelled as defensively poor and the forwards called weak and ineffective.
Externally, one could have easily believed that the club was about to implode, sackings soon to be made and that the new board who took the reigns in January of 2018 on a ticket of change, could be held accountable.
Then, rather miraculously, the Bulldogs bucked the trend and confused everyone. That is the point where the NRL should have stepped in; that exact moment when it appeared that the men in blue and white had changed their identity.
It is very misleading to other clubs and such Jekyll and Hyde behaviour needs to be eliminated from the game.
Since a crushing 38-12 loss against the Roosters in Round 15, the Bulldogs have won six of their last eight matches, enjoyed another two points from their Round 16 bye and climbed five positions on the ladder.
With two matches remaining and another winnable encounter against the Cowboys on Thursday night in Townsville, the run appears to have a little petrol still in the tank.
All of a sudden, the team has spark. New singing Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has brought much of that from fullback, yet Will Hopoate has also come to life and Kerrod Holland’s defensive work has improved immeasurably.
Lachlan Lewis has returned to the top grade and impressed, Adam Elliott looks like a different player after a sluggish start to the season and even one of the NRL’s favourite punching bags Kieran Foran has shone, after his return from yet another injury.
Captain Josh Jackson has continued to impress, leading his forwards with the assistance of veteran Aiden Tolman and most significantly, many now believe Dean Pay can indeed coach a football team.
The wins have been significant. The Sharks, Knights, Panthers, Wests Tigers, Rabbitohs and Eels all had semi-final thoughts when they faced the Dogs. The stunning wins are complete reversals of personality and character and frankly, unfair.
Teams should know who they are playing against each week and precisely what to expect.
The Bulldogs have thrown that entire concept out the window and the NRL should have a look at the club, do some DNA testing and find out exactly how they did it.