2017 was a disaster for the Bulldogs. Missing the finals is an almost unthinkable prospect for the club after a long period of sustained success in terms of qualifying for the finals. Des Hasler has paid the price as a result, meaning club legend Dean Pay has the reigns for 2018.
The club lost the heart and soul of their side as Josh Reynolds and James Graham departed, however in Foran and Woods they've arguably upgraded in both positions. I was really surprised to see Brenko Lee released to the Titans following some impressive efforts in 2017.
Many fans across social media turned on their once legendary coach in Hasler following two seasons of sub par attacking football. I love mentioning the fact that the Dogs halves would rather take the tackle on the last play other than risking a misplaced kick.
The Dogs need to improve in a big way in 2018 if they want to be anywhere near finals footy. Sides around them have improved, and while the Dogs have recruited two superstars, it's the change at the top that may make or break their season.
Recruitment Grading: B
On paper the Dogs have recruited an international, premiership winning five-eighth and the first prop picked in any representative side. They've also picked up the criminally underrated Nu Brown from the Sharks. Although they've lost James Graham, Josh Reynolds, Sam Kasiano and Brenko Lee, I'd say the Dogs came out in front overall. The Bulldogs 2018 season relies so heavily on Kieran Foran. If he can rediscover his best form there is no doubt he can lift this talented side to great heights. The question is, when was the last time Foran hit that level of form, consistently? His Warriors stint was ok, but injuries and off-field distractions summed up his tenure. So too his time with the Eels. No doubt there were some brilliant performances mixed in, but overall the Dogs need only the positive side of Foran's game or this B turns very quickly into a D or worse.
Star Player: Moses Mbye
So much was expected of Mbye when he moved into the halves. I'd argue the move was too quick and too much pressure was placed on him, but I absolutely love the publicly announced shift to fullback. Mbye is a running player with clever ball skills. He is a textbook fullback in an attacking sense. His game in the halves lacked a kicking option and he forced to make too many tackles in 2017. The shift negates both deficiencies. I expect a brilliant season by the man once touted as a future Maroon superstar. He played some magical football in the centres but fullback should suit him given his ball playing abilities. Certainly one to watch.
How will the Bulldogs go in 2018? @zerotackle
— Moylan Mania 🍍 (@suthodan) January 17, 2018
Strength: Big, talented, aggressive pack
The Bulldogs boast the two starting Kangaroo props in Aaron Woods and David Klemmer. Throw in Aiden Tolman, Adam Elliott and Josh Jackson and you have a powerful forward pack capable of matching any side in the competition. Greg Eastwood recently had a positive injury update and should be back to his best in 2018. Woods has been brought in to be a pack leader, a role he should flourish in. He was seen as a workhorse for the Tigers and should provide very similar numbers in defense to the man he replaced in James Graham. Klemmer is the key. He is one of the game's most impactful forwards on his day and I'm backing his 2018 to be a career best season.
Weakness: Lack of attacking options
Despite the addition of Foran and Brown I still don't see where regular points come from in this Dogs lineup. Michael Lichaa looked a far better player in the final rounds once the leash was taken off so perhaps he will inspire a point scoring frenzy. Mbye at fullback provides a better option, but Brown/Frawley and Foran have pressure on them from literally day one. If Foran doesn't fire, or suffers injury, where does that leave the Dogs? The answer is somewhere around the 'in big trouble' area. The Morris boys are fantastic but are the wrong side of 30. Brenko Lee was arguably their best attacking back but has departed. It all comes back to Foran, whoever partners him at halfback, Mbye and Lichaa. Perhaps a move back to the centres for Hopoate will spark something.
Placing the Bulldogs is a difficult task. As mentioned above the Dogs season heavily relies on the performances of Kieran Foran and whoever partners him in the halves. It will likely be either Frawley or Brown playing halfback, although the club is trying to convince the Knights to allow Cogger to move across having signed to move to the club from 2019 onward.
There is no doubt the Dogs will win plenty of battles in the middle. Klemmer, Tolman and Woods are as good a middle three forwards as any side can put forward. Josh Jackson is a rep mainstay and should cause havoc again running wide.
It all comes down to the question: 'can the Dogs score enough points in 2018'?
Unfortunately I just can't see it. I like Mbye to fullback and I believe Lichaa is a better player than we have seen. Hopoate moves back to the centres but has yet to re-find the form that made him a New South Wales rep extremely early in his career.
If Foran can play all 24 games, then who knows? If Brown or Frawley can hit peak form early on, then who knows? If Mbye can position himself well from round one, who knows?
Too many questions in my view. I don't see the Dogs playing finals footy. They can really finish anywhere from 10th to 14th for mine. 13th.