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Season review: Bulldogs

The Bulldogs will overhaul their style after a disappointing exit from the 2016 NRL premiership.
The Bulldogs need some serious change ahead of 2017
Photo Source: AAP

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At times Canterbury looked like world-beaters in 2016, at others they looked downright ordinary. Ahead of round 20 they were sitting in the top four and seemed a genuine premiership chance, but a hammering by North Queensland showed the Dogs were mere pretenders, which became even more obvious when three wins against soft opponents were followed by three losses as they limped into and then crashed out of the finals in the first week.

The Bulldogs still have one of the best forward packs going around in James Graham, who was second in the league for average metres run per game, David Klemmer, Aidan Tolman, Sam Kasiano, Greg Eastwood and Josh Jackson, who had a brilliant year. The team did, however, struggle a little in attack, scoring the fewest points of any of the top-eight sides. Their forwards-based game was fine to a point but they lacked the requisite balance of flare and control in the halves/hooker combination to ever really challenge the stronger teams even though they never dropped out of the top eight.

The long absence of Brett Morris due to a pre-season knee injury gave Will Hopoate the chance to shine in 2016, and Hopoate's decision not to play Sundays didn’t really hurt Canterbury until right at the end, when another injury to Morris showed them up in their finals loss to the Panthers. For the Bulldogs to take the next step in 2017, they will need Brett Morris fit all year, and a lot more cohesion from Josh Reynolds, Moses Mbye and Michael Lichaa – or even some new talent in their spine.

Six games that shaped the Bulldogs' season
Round 4: Bulldogs d Rabbitohs 42-12
After both sides had started the season reasonably well with a couple of wins and a loss, this clash was highly anticipated but turned out to be a complete fizzer. Canterbury obliterated the Bunnies to lead 32-0 at the break in a completely one-sided match. Souths felt the loss of Sam Burgess, who had been stretchered off the previous week with a neck injury, and were no match for the Bulldogs' forwards down the middle. Graham was unstoppable, recording 151 metres in the first half alone, while Josh Morris bagged a double.

Round 6: Bulldogs d Storm 18-12
Canterbury came up against an in-form Melbourne outfit knowing they play AAMI Park well after winning their last three matches there, and this win continued that great run down south. Mbye got his side off to a great start when he blocked a grubber from Blake Green with his foot, grabbed the ball and sprinted 90 metres downfield to score. Not long after that the eventual victors stretched their lead when Sam Perrett caught a beautifully weighted Reynolds kick. Some desperate last-ditch defending by the Bulldogs stopped a couple of near-certain tries, but soon after the break the Storm levelled things up and appeared to have all the momentum. But an expansive last-tackle play got Kerrod Holland over and Canterbury secured a great win to go 4-2 for the season. Their season ebbed and flowed over the next couple of months up until a close loss to the all-conquering Sharks in round 13, which was followed by four consecutive victories.

Round 16: Bulldogs d Broncos 40-14
The second of those wins came against Brisbane, who, after starting the season on fire, were in a slump. Brett Morris made a remarkable return from injury, scoring a hat-trick of tries in his first game for the year, while Canterbury's big men dominated. Kasiano got a double and Klemmer and Tony Williams joined in the romp, with the Broncos hampered by having five players backing up after State of Origin.

Round 20: Cowboys d Bulldogs 36-0
On the back of four consecutive wins, Canterbury were 11-6 and nestled in the top four. They would have come into this clash against the 2015 premiers chock-full of confidence yet were off the boil from the outset, with some poor defending from the Dogs helping the home side to a 12-0 lead inside 10 minutes. Some Johnathan Thurston magic followed to send Javid Bowen over, and when Justin O’Neill scored early in the second half the game was done. Even an early mark for Thurston, who was troubled by a hamstring injury, couldn't hide the fact that there was a gulf in class between Canterbury and the top sides.

Round 24: Broncos d Bulldogs 20-10
This loss in their return match against Brisbane was the start of the end for Canterbury. They came into it on the back of three wins, which papered over their weaknesses in attack. The Broncos were superb all night in defence and forced the Bulldogs into plenty of errors as the visitors went behind early and played catch-up for most of the match. Again, just when Canterbury had looked on the verge of turning the season into something meaningful, they were found wanting. Two more losses followed as they stumbled in to the finals in seventh spot.

Elimination final: Panthers d Bulldogs 28-12
Canterbury were on the slide and their opponents had won their last five matches, yet the Dogs got the early jump as a bit of Moses Mbye deception helped him to the game's opening try. Soon, however, Penrith gained control as Dallin Watene-Zelezniak ran onto a beautiful pass out wide from Nathan Cleary. Canterbury led 6-4 at half-time but in the second half Josh Mansour ripped through the Canterbury defence to set up a Waqa Blake try, then some team brilliance from the Panthers saw Peter Wallace make his way over. The Bulldogs were left to contemplate the need for some major changes.

Can the Bulldogs crack the top four in 2017? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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