A season that started off with frustration at least ended brightly for Canterbury fans, with some future stars unearthed and some positive wins coming late in the season.
A struggle to post points for most of the season threatened to be the lasting memory of 2018 at Belmore – and it was certainly a big part of them slipping out of finals contention well before September.
However, the debuts through the season of the likes of Rhyse Martin and Lachlan Lewis provided a positive foundation for next year.
Given a constricted salary cap position and the debut NRL coaching season of Dean Pay combined with season-ending injuries to the likes of Kieran Foran and Raymond Faitala-Mariner, the way the Bulldogs were able to reverse their slide under the impressive leadership of Josh Jackson has to be applauded.
Jackson told NRL.com the strong finish and some astute new buys had him feeling optimistic ahead of 2019.
"At the back end of the season when those guys had been confirmed I was really excited about the type of players they were and having met them over the last couple of weeks, they're fantastic people as well," Jackson said.
"There's a lot of competition this pre-season, we've got a lot of spots up for grabs and all those players are going to be big players in the future."
Home & Away record
5-7 at home, 3-9 away
The final results tally was simply not good enough either at home or away for the team to be a serious chance at finals footy. After 19 rounds they had only won two official home games, one of those against the wooden spooners, and that was far too big a hurdle to overcome.
Leading try scorers
The Bulldogs were one of a handful of teams in which no player cracked double figures for tries. The Morris twins, Brett and Josh, were best with nine apiece and neither will be at Belmore in 2019. The encouraging sign is that the next two names on the list – Reimis Smith (seven in 11 games) and Kerrod Holland (six tries in 20 games, but five in 10 games after switching to centre) were both standouts over the more positive closing stages of 2018.
The Bulldogs were the second-best team in the league at racking up post-contact metres with 527 per game, behind only the Roosters.
They conceded 504 per game, which was mid-table. Best of the Dogs individually was David Klemmer; the Test prop's future still seems murky and the numbers highlight how big of a hole he could leave with 75 post-contact metres per game (second in NRL) with just over four post-contact metres per carry.
The since-departed Aaron Woods (52) and fullback Will Hopoate (45) were next.
Jackson was more worried about the metres conceded than gained.
"Defensively, there were some areas we need to improve, we were pretty poor in conceding metres but that's something we're going to have to work really hard at in preseason," he said.
Try scoring – attacking channels
The most profitable part of the field for Canterbury was right up the middle, with 17 of their 65 tries coming in the centre channel. The right side tallied far better than their left, with 14 scored in the centre-right channel and 13 more on the right wing (plenty of that owed to the late-season form of Holland and Smith), with just 21 through the two left side channels.
Tries conceded – defending channels
The Bulldogs' defensive record was not as good as any of the top eight teams, and when compounded with an inability to score for much of the year, it made it tough to win games. Still, their final tally of 83 tries conceded through the regular season was only three tries worse than the Dragons and Broncos so their defence shouldn't have too far to evolve.
A whopping 36 of those came on the right flank (the next worst channel was the centre, with 17, then left wing, with 16). Unfortunately, Holland and Smith were among the chief culprits for try causes (13 each) so there is a bit of work to do on that edge.
Tries conceded from penalties
There was nothing too concerning about the penalty counts for the Dogs; their 166 conceded made them the best-disciplined team of the regular season and 28 tries conceded from penalties was better than half the competition.
Metres gained from offloads
The Bulldogs made more metres from offloads than any other club in 2018, gaining almost an extra 80 metres per game. Will Hopoate – who popped a ridiculous 10 offloads in a single game against the Rabbitohs – was most responsible, with his offloads garnering an extra 364 metres through the season. Holland (297), Woods (190) and Klemmer (177) were next best.
Another category in which the Bulldogs were the best in the competition, thanks to the stunning form off the tee for Rhyse Martin.
The PNG international slotted 36 goals from 38 attempts for a competition-best 95% success rate (minimum 10 attempts). Holland (seven from seven) was perfect over his limited chances and even the least successful kicker, Moses Mbye, still managed almost 80% (36 from 46) over the first half of the season.
"Rhysey Martin on the goal kicking is doing an excellent job for us and he works really hard at training and does a lot of extras to make sure he's kicking them really well so he's fantastic for us there," Jackson said.
"It goes a little bit unnoticed at times but it's a massive advantage to get the extra two points, it can be the difference between winning a game and losing a game."
There were plenty of stats the Dogs did surprisingly well in but at the other end of the spectrum was their tackle break tally, which finished up the worst in the NRL.
While their post-contact metres and offloading were positives, their ability to actually beat the first tackler impacted their ability to break the line, with just 668 busts for the season; Wests Tigers (674) were next-fewest while the Dragons (881) broke the most.
Will Hopoate (84) was the best of the blue and whites, well clear of Moses Mbye (59 busts before moving clubs mid-year), Brett Morris (51) and Faitala-Mariner (39).
Holland hits form late
After trying to make an impact as a bench dummy-half through the first half the season, Holland got a crack at his preferred centre role from round 16 (once Mbye's departure resulted in Hopoate moving from centre to fullback) and he hit his stride pretty quickly.
His second game there – a loss to the Raiders at Belmore – was one of the worst of his career but it precipitated a late-season form spike thereafter.
Overall in 10 starts at centre, Holland managed the best per-game line-break involvement of any centre in 2018, fractionally ahead of the year's best centre, Latrell Mitchell. Six breaks and six line break assists, for a 1.20 per-game involvement, just edged Blues and Kangaroos centre Mitchell's 1.18 (17 breaks and nine assists in 22 games).
The pair were well ahead of the rest of the field, with Jarrod Croker (0.88), Ben Hampton and Brenko Lee (both 0.86) next best.
Jackson was pleased with the development in the team's right edge attack towards the end of the year.
"'Dutchy' and Reimis had a really good combination going there and they worked really hard at training and came up with a few little plays and were coming up with some different things to get themselves in the game," he said.
"Reimis scored a couple of tries near the end of the year off some set plays that him, Kerrod Holland and Michael Lichaa practised at training so the work paid off towards the back end of the year."