SEASON REVIEW | Canterbury Bulldogs

Ladder position: 7th

Competition points: 27
Points scored (including finals): 528
Points conceded (including finals): 503

It was perhaps the most remarkable season of all teams this year, but the Bulldogs have gone back to Belmore with their tail behind their legs following a heartbreaking Week 1 finals exit.

The Bulldogs, who had chances late in the game to wrap up last Sunday’s game against the Roos, fell victim to a Joey Lussick field goal in Golden Point at Pepper Stadium. The game, which featured two sin-bins in the second half, will be hard to top as one of the games of the year – but unfortunately for Canterbury-Bankstown it would spell the end of their season.

Read the full Wyong v Canterbury-Bankstown Finals Week 1 match report

The boys from Belmore, however, will be somewhat grateful to have even had the chance to play September football following a disastrous start to the year.

2016 started in a similar fashion to how it ended for the blue-and-whites, with 80 minutes unable to split the Bulldogs and Jets in their Round 1 meeting at Henson Park. Not for the last time this year, Newtown winger Jacob Gagan completed a 10-point comeback to lock things up late in the game and it would prove to be the only point the Bulldogs could salvage from the opening nine rounds.

In those nine weekends, everyone who saw the Bulldogs knew that they weren’t far off. Their finishes to games let them down, however, and despite being ahead late in the game on four occasions in that period, they would be pipped at the post by the Jets in both Round 1 and Round 6, the Sea Eagles in Round 3 and the Roos in Round 5, before falling to the Bears by a point in Round 7. When a Warriors outfit boasting dropped NRL stars defeated them by 30 a week later, the Bulldogs appeared to be broken for 2016 – but coach Andy Patmore considers that period integral to galvanising his side.

“One point from nine rounds is probably not a good way to start the year – and even then we only had one really bad game in all of that,” Patmore told NSWRL.com.au. “It was just a bit of confidence. We’re a young side and I think we lacked a bit of maturity – it’s footy and that’s grown.”

Canterbury-Bankstown needed one good win to get them back on track and with time running out, that came the following week against Wentworthville. Thanks to an incredible six-try haul from winger Jarrod McInally, the Bulldogs defeated the Magpies 42 points to 14 to kick-start their season.

Patmore’s side would take all 10 of their wins from the last 14 matches of the regular season and while they were playing must-win football for most of that, they responded to the pressure perfectly. A four-point, Round 25 victory over the Bears, in particular, was impressive given both teams needed to win to progress to finals football, and showed how far the Bulldogs had come since their poor finishes earlier in the season.

Read the full North Sydney v Canterbury-Bankstown Round 25 match report

In a season that appeared to turn on a dime, the Bulldogs improved significantly and developed several young players that will help the NRL side in the future. If they can keep a similar roster and pick up where they left off, they will be a force to be reckoned with next season.

Best game:

The Bulldogs’ 30-0 shutout of the Illawarra Cutters was by far and away their best performance of 2016. Given the strength of the opposition – who admittedly had some off games throughout the year – the Bulldogs defence was something to behold in the Round 20 match at WIN Stadium. A completion rate of 86% starved Illawarra of possession as Lloyd Perrett, Craig Garvey and Brad Abbey helped their side to what was an impressive all-round game. Unfortunately, the match hit a sour note in the dying stages with Bulldogs young gun Reimis Smith going down with a season-ending compound leg fracture, forcing the game to be abandoned with two minutes remaining.

Read the full Illawarra v Canterbury-Bankstown Round 20 match report

Worst game:

Patmore referred to “one really bad game” in the opening nine rounds and he is most likely referring to a Round 2 encounter with the Cutters – the same opposition they had their best game against later in the year. With both sides still finding their feet, Canterbury-Bankstown were well and truly outclassed by an Illawarra side determined to make their mark on the competition, with a 16-0 half-time lead setting up the victory. The Bulldogs were solid in the third quarter of the game to score two tries, but failed to keep up with the Cutters who would run out 38-12 winners at Belmore Sports Ground.

Read the full Canterbury-Bankstown v Illawarra Round 2 match report

Turning point:

The turning point for the Bulldogs is clear to identify; on the back of a demoralising loss to the Warriors, the 12th-placed side would bounce back against the Magpies with Jarrod McInally stealing the show. Patmore, however, puts his side’s sensational rise to form down to a combination of things.

“I think we’ve worked on getting a whole game together and that’s been the difference,” Patmore said. “Completion rates have improved dramatically since those early times and also getting Asipeli Fine from the Tigers coming across mid-season – Lamar Liolevave coming across too.

“That certainly helped, but there was no one moment or magic wand.”

The team’s maturity, as mentioned also significantly improved and they were able to compete for 80 minutes later in the season.

Standout performers:

Lloyd Perrett should go down as a standout for the Bulldogs, with his huge workload only improving in the later rounds of the season. Along with former Warrior Brad Abbey, former Tiger Asipeli Fine, former Bradford Bull Harry Siejka and former Dragon Craig Garvey, Bulldogs management will reflect on their recruitment for 2016 as a resounding success. With Adam Elliott, Jarrod McInally and Matt Frawley once again giving their all for their club, Canterbury-Bankstown did not lack individual talent this season.

Destined for the NRL:

While Brad Abbey has been earmarked for a future in the Bulldogs’ NRL back line, he was not deemed ready in 2016 – but a year at fullback in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW will only do him good. Reimis Smith, too, got his NRL debut following the bizarre late Origin call-up of Josh Morris this year and proved he is one to keep an eye on, scoring a double against the Raiders. Two more backs, Reubenn Rennie and McInally, also be fighting for NRL spots in future while Fine, Garvey, Elliott and Perrett have all proved they can handle the pressures of the top grade if ever required.

Future focus:

In a theme that runs through both senior grades at Belmore, attack has been an issue for the club this year; neither the NRL (506 points scored) nor the Intrust Super Premiership NSW (510 points scored) significantly cleared the 500 mark this year and both sit as the worst attackers to play finals football. While a low-risk, defence-oriented game plan is clearly something that Des Hasler has implemented for all grades, a greater point-scoring ability can only improve the side for next year.

This article first appeared on NSWRL.com.au