The Run Home: Bulldogs
NRL.com take a look at our run home into the finals.
How they stand: It's been another rocky road for the Bulldogs this season, with things going off the rails somewhat after a successful first month of the campaign. Suspension and injuries have seen key players James Graham, Brett Morris, Josh Morris, Tim Lafai, David Klemmer and Sam Kasiano all sidelined at some stage of the year while the club has lost Tony Williams for the season to a pectoral injury. Des Hasler has had to juggle his halves combination with emerging talent Moses Mbye battling with NSW halfback Trent Hodkinson and former Blues pivot Josh Reynolds for two starting positions. Despite all those headaches last year's grand finalists still find themselves inside the top eight, and there's every chance they can repeat 2014's effort and finish strongly at the business end of the campaign. Meanwhile winger Curtis Rona is challenging Semi Radradra for the title of 2015's top try-scorer.
Round 20 v Sharks at Belmore Sports Ground, 4:00pm Sunday, July 26
Round 21 v Roosters at Allianz Stadium, 7:35pm Friday, July 31
Round 22 v Broncos at Suncorp Stadium, 7:35pm Friday, August 7
Round 23 v Titans at Central Coast Stadium, 4:00pm Sunday, August 16
Round 24 v Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium, 7:45pm Friday, August 21
Round 25 v Knights at Hunter Stadium, 5:30pm Saturday, August 29
Round 26 v Warriors at ANZ Stadium, 6:30pm Sunday, September 6
Key clash: It was the grand final rematch on Good Friday that threw the Bulldogs' season off track, with a mad final few minutes resulting in suspensions for Graham and Klemmer, a two-month injury to Brett Morris and a narrow victory for South Sydney thanks to a penalty goal. The Dogs will get their chance to make amends against the premiers at ANZ Stadium in Round 24. While the Bulldogs can probably secure a top-eight finish with three victories against bottom-eight sides the Sharks, Titans and Knights, if they are to be a genuine premiership contender then the Friday night clash with the Rabbitohs on August 21 will be their chance to show it. Souths have also had their struggles this season after a stunning start to the year, but both clubs will be expected to have their ships in order by Round 24, just three weeks out from the finals. If Canterbury can come away from this game with a win then they'll be confident of matching last season's stunning run to the premiership decider.
Key player: James Graham remains arguably the best prop in rugby league and the fact he's only played nine games this season is a big reason why the Bulldogs have struggled for consistency. In his absence, front-row partner Aidan Tolman has stepped up in terms of workload (he ranks second in the NRL for total runs) while fellow big man Sam Kasiano ranks third in the league for offloads, but with their ball-playing captain in their side the Bulldogs have a whole new dimension in attack plus plenty of added grit in the forward pack. With a talented halves trio and a backline featuring the brilliant Morris twins and the league's equal top try-scorer, if the Bulldogs can start to dominate up front they will once again be hard to stop.
Injury report: The ongoing absence of Williams is their only major injury concern at this stage. He won't be back this year, but if the rest of the troops remain healthy Des Hasler will have one of the most talented squads at his disposal at the business end of the season.
NRL.com predicted finish: 7th.
This article first appeared on NRL.com