While it wasn’t the grand final finish the Canterbury Bulldogs were after, 2015 was a superb season for the club on many levels.
The Bulldogs powered their way to the preliminary final from fifth place and earned an impressive 33-20 semi-final victory over competition heavyweights, the New Zealand Warriors (see video above).
Unearthing several talented youngsters including Shaun Lane who broke on to the NRL stage in 2015, there is plenty for Bulldogs fans to look forward to in the future. Brimming with talent, Tyrone Phillips, Danny Fualalo and Adam Elliott showcased their potential to play in the NRL.
Capped with the arrival of game-veteran Ray Moujalli, the Bulldogs field a strong side right across the park combining a thrilling backline and physical forward pack. There is no doubt Canterbury will be a major contender this season.
Off-season focus: The Bulldogs are a proud club and will be determined for another successful season in 2016. The new reduced interchange could be critical with the side focused on their fitness levels in the offseason. Coach Andy Patmore asserted the side has put an emphasis on their skill levels under fatigue.
Biggest gain: Kerrod Holland joins the Bulldogs after helping the Newcastle Knights claim the premiership. The explosive outside back will enhance Canterbury’s dynamic backline. Lebanese international and rugby league veteran Moujalli also joins the Bulldogs forward pack. With plenty of experience, the 31-year-old will pass on all his knowledge to the younger guys coming through the ranks. It’s a welcome addition for Patmore who explains Moujalli fills the experience front-rower position that was lost with Antonio Kaufusi.
Toughest loss: The Dogs lost several key players including Corey Thompson and Levi Dodd. Jaline Graham’s departure will also leave a huge hole in the halves. At his best, Graham was near impossible to contain. Just ask the Warriors who Graham left in the dust when he exploded in an explosive man-of-the-match performance in the semi finals. Damien Cook was also a revelation for the Bulldogs in the NRL last season, and his absence will hurt not only their NSW Cup squad but the first-grade side too.
Coach Patmore says: “There are a lot of changes and towards the end of the year you start thinking about finals. Our main job is for those boys aiming to play NRL are ready and they're playing good football. We train as one big group with most of the guys being full-time now in NSW Cup, so they're getting NRL experience every day. We want them to play like an NRL side and hopefully win lots of games but certainly to be ready when they get a call up to play NRL.”
Future star: Phillips absolutely carved up the park in 2015, topping all try scorers with a blistering 23 tries for the Bulldogs. His scintillating form in the Auckland Nines earlier this season showed that he is far from done. It’s only a matter of time before he continues his try-scoring antics in the NRL.
Our prediction: The Bulldogs will be one of the major players in the NSW Cup this season. They have an electric backline combined with a physical and skillful pack of forwards who are confident in sharing the ball. The only potential weakness may be with a new-look halves pairing. But with Patmore in charge, it’s assured the Bulldogs will be ready to roll up their sleeves each week and usher in the next generation of first graders.
Comings and goings
Gains: Kerrod Holland (Newcastle Knights), Craig Garvey (St. George-Illawarra Dragons)
Losses: Corey Thompson (Widnes Vikings), Damien Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Levi Dodd (Illawarra Cutters), Jaline Graham and Jason Schirnack (Newtown Jets)