NRL.com season review: Bulldogs
As part of the NRL.com series reviewing each club's 2018 season, Tanisha Stanton looks at the Bulldogs and their attempts to turn the club around.
One win in the first five matches was definitely not the way the Bulldogs had planned to start their season and from that point any hope of salvaging their season and making finals was forlorn.
Coming into the season the Bulldogs' salary cap predicament put this year's side in a tight spot. The end result was they chose to release Aaron Woods and Moses Mbye in late June - by that stage of the season their finals hopes were long gone.
In positive signs for 2019, the Bulldogs won four of their last six and showcased some fine young talent in Lachlan Lewis, Rhyse Martin and Reimis Smith. But much of that good work was undone by the ugly Mad Monday behaviour which cost the club $250,000 and damaged the reputations of several of their players.
Best player: David Klemmer, who played an integral role in NSW notch their second series win in 12 years, also led from the front for the Bulldogs, with 3982 running metres, 1650 post-contact metres and 542 tackles at 92.2% tackle efficiency. Five-eighth Lewis also deserves a special mention for the giant strides he took after making his NRL debut in round 16.
What-if moment: Beating the finals-bound Broncos, Dragons and Warriors in the run home was a great shot in the arm after a horror season but it left fans wondering how things went so bad in the first 16 rounds.
The quote: "I've probably missed about three from in front [in other senior games]. I was practising earlier in the week with our physios and he was telling me you've never kicked one even at training. I was lucky and I guess that breeze pulled it over in the end." Lachlan Lewis after his first field goal lifted the Bulldogs to a 27-26 win in round 23.
Best win: The Bulldogs' late-season surge peaked in round 24 when they thrashed St George Illawarra 38-0 at Jubilee Oval. Flying winger Smith was a standout for the side, scoring a dazzling hat-trick in just his 11th game in the NRL.
Worst loss: In round 17 against Canberra, complacency crept up on the Bulldogs in the second half after they looked to have the match won. The Belmore faithful were left in shock when Blake Austin orchestrated a miracle Raiders comeback with three tries in the last six minutes.
Roster rotation: The Bulldogs had several tough decisions to make this season in letting go some of the club greats, including Josh and Brett Morris and Greg Eastwood. But they have picked up Panthers duo Christian Crichton and Corey Harawira-Naera and Newcastle youngsters Nick Meaney and Jack Cogger.
2019 outlook: The way Lewis, Martin, Smith and Jeremy Marshall-King stepped up when the Bulldogs could have been forgiven for throwing in the towel in the final eight rounds was a sign of their maturity. Dean Pay can build a revival around that quartet.