Bulldogs 2015 Season Review
Looking over the year that was for the Bulldogs, it's not hard to see the impact of losing NSW halfback Trent Hodkinson to a dislocated wrist two weeks out from the finals series.
With Hodkinson gone for the season so was Canterbury's direction – but no their heart. It took a clash with the minor premiers and a controversial try decision to end the Bulldogs' campaign in Week 2 of the finals, but it doesn't take away from a season in which nothing came easy for the club.
Where They Excelled: The Bulldogs travelled quite well in attack, repeatedly opening up opposition defences. Thanks greatly to winger Curtis Rona (23 tries, 24 line breaks – second in the NRL in both categories) the club was able to come up with the third-most line breaks (116) and fourth-most tries (102) in the competition.
Where They Struggled: They may have been slick in attack but they were rusty in defence at times, producing the eighth-most missed tackles in the competition with 624 – 12 more than the last-placed Knights. They also conceded the eighth-most points in the league.
Missing In Action: The impact of the Bulldogs' 18-17 loss to the Rabbitohs on Good Friday was massive, with five players made unavailable in the aftermath. Fullback Brett Morris suffered a severe hamstring injury, Tim Lafai hurt his knee while Sam Kasiano, David Klemmer and James Graham copped varied suspensions. It only became worse for Graham who upon returning from a four-game suspension was concussed and hurt his knee in one fell swoop. Upon returning from that double blow, the luckless Bulldogs skipper hurt his hamstring and spent another month on the sideline. Michael Lichaa's broken foot saw the emergence of Damien Cook at hooker while Tony Williams's season-ending pectoral injury ruled him out early on. Hodkinson's wrist injury proved too much for the club in the end after having to deal with Josh Reynolds's three suspensions and separate shoulder and knee complaints.
Turning Point: At a time where they had lost three consecutive games and won just four of their first 10, the Bulldogs' 41-34 win over the Raiders in Round 11 ultimately got their season on track. After racking up a 26-0 lead within 18 minutes, the game hung in the balance at 34-all with under a minute to go before Reynolds's field goal and Moses Mbye's try allowed the Dogs to steal the game.
Hold Your Head High: Josh Jackson and David Klemmer made their Origin debuts for New South Wales, Rona's first full season in the NRL was spent scoring tries and Frank Pritchard had perhaps his best season ever before departing for England, but surely the Bulldogs' best for 2015 was Aiden Tolman. An underestimated player, Tolman produced the third-most hitups competition-wide and averaged 153.1 metres and 37.2 tackles per game.
2016 Crystal Ball: No Hodkinson, no Pritchard and no recruits thus far – it can only hurt their chances surely? Being one of just two teams to have not signed anybody new for 2016, it'll come down to those already at the club to lift next season. Reynolds and Mbye best be getting as much practice as possible on their halves combination if the club is to be successful in 2016.
Conclusion: At the end of the day the loss of Hodkinson proved too much. The Bulldogs lacked direction and any backline prowess they possessed all season was depleted. That much could be seen in their two finals performances – where they lucky to have even beaten the Dragons in Week 1.
"We were really poor with the ball. You don't even have to know anything about stats to do with the game, but to come up with 23 from 35 on one of the biggest nights of the year was just really disappointing for the side and for the fans," coach Des Hasler said following his team's 38-12 loss to the Roosters.
"We really didn't give ourselves much chance to do anything even in areas of the field where what you call good ball areas which is unacceptable."
Position (after 26 rounds): 5th
Position (after finals): 5th
Home Record: 8-5
Away Record: 7-6
Longest Winning Streak: Six (Round 22-Finals Week One)
Longest Losing Streak: Three (Round 8-10)
Players Used: 27
Tries Scored: 102
Tries Conceded: 92
This article first appeared on NRL.com