SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 11: Will Hopoate of the Bulldogs in action during the NRL Trial match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Penrith Panthers at Belmore Sports Ground on February 11, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Is the Bulldogs’ 2017 season a lost cause?

To say an NRL club can’t win a premiership before a ball is kicked is a big call, especially one that made the finals the year before. But looking at the Bulldog’s squad, they just simply don’t have the ingredients for a premiership.

The Bulldogs heavily rely on their forward pack. That’s something Des Hasler hasn’t exactly kept hidden over the past few years. With players like Sam Kasiano, James Graham and Dave Klemmer up front, it’s hard to argue it’s their strong suit. But such a heavy reliance on their pack is a double-edged sword, one that leaves them lacking in most other areas.

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Will Hopoate surprised many in 2016 at fullback, scoring as many tries in his first 11 matches as a Bulldog as he did in 38 games with Parramatta. But his religious decision to sit out Sunday matches, while respectable in a moral sense, is a big disadvantage for Canterbury. Interchanging your fullback on a regular basis isn’t recommendable, with custodians one of the most integral positions in modern day rugby league.

Brett Morris and Josh Morris form a very strong left edge, with the former Kangaroos some of the best in the business in their positions. The other edge is a different story. The right centre and wing position are up for grabs, with Kerrod Holland, Brenko Lee and Richie Kennar fighting for the spots. No matter which combination Hasler goes with, it’s sure to be a target for opposition teams in 2017.

GOSFORD, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 16: Moses Mbye of the Bulldogs passes the ball during the round 23 NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Gold Coast Titans at Central Coast Stadium on August 16, 2015 in Gosford, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Arguably the biggest issue is the halves, however. In Moses Mbye and Josh Reynolds, the Bulldogs have two great off-the-cuff five-eighths that can create something from nothing. The problem? Neither possesses strong organisational skills. The Bulldogs forwards will have no issue getting Canterbury to the opposition red zone, but setting up plays, organising the team around that’s where the Dogs will struggle. They’ll score some impossible tries, but they’ll fluff the easier chances. If Hasler had kept Trent Hodkinson and moved Reynolds into a bench utility role, they’d be a much more feared rival this season.

Des Hasler himself even presents as a possible problem, with the premiership-winning coach’s future murky beyond this season. Reports emerged that Hasler was close to being sacked at the end of 2016, meaning his chances of earning an extension are slim. The Dragons have reportedly offered Hasler a sizeable contract for 2018 and beyond, and if Hasler does sign on that dotted line, then expect his mind to be elsewhere this season. If the Dogs aren’t sitting firmly in the top eight by Round 20, expect Des to get the boot early.

There’s no doubt the Bulldogs will have flashes of genius in 2017, as they always do, but while other clubs around the Bulldogs have recruited strongly, the Dogs biggest signing is Brenko Lee. Expect a fair share of teams to leapfrog Canterbury-Bankstown this as they miss the finals for the first time since 2011, and begin the forever dreaded rebuilding phase.

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