SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 20: Bulldogs coach Trent Barrett looks on during the round 15 NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Bankwest Stadium, on June 20, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

2021 Season:

The Bulldogs were awful in 2021. I don't think I'm offending, or surprising, too many Dogs fans with that statement. They finished last by a long way.

Across 24 games they only managed to compile 340 points, while conceding 710. Dogs fans don't need reminding that they only won three times in 2021.

Off the field though the Bulldogs were ruthless and successful. They added some massive names to completely transform the outlook of this side.

We'll discuss in detail below but Dogs fans will be hoping this new era consigns the terror that was their 2021 season to a distant memory.

Off-Season Moves:

2022 GAINS
Josh Addo-Carr (Melbourne Storm, 2025), Braidon Burns (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2023), Matt Burton (Penrith Panthers, 2024), Joshua Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2023), Matthew Dufty (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2022), Reece Hoffman (Wests Tigers, 2022), Max King (Melbourne Storm, 2022), Brent Naden (Penrith Panthers, 2023), Tevita Pangai Junior (Brisbane Broncos, 2024), Paul Vaughan (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2022)

2022 LOSSES
Renouf Atoni (Sydney Roosters), Dean Britt (released), Nick Cotric (Canberra Raiders), Christian Crichton (Penrith Panthers), Bradley Deitz (released), Adam Elliott (Canberra Raiders), Tyrone Harding (released), Watson Heleta (released), Will Hopoate (St Helens RLFC), Sione Katoa (released), Lachlan Lewis (released), Falakiko Manu (released), Nick Meaney (Melbourne Storm), Dylan Napa (Catalan Dragons), James Roumanos (released), Chris Smith (Penrith Panthers), Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (New Zealand Warriors)

Recruitment Impact:

In a single word ... Huge!

No side across the competition will feel the impact of their recruitment spree quite like the Dogs. Just quickly they did lose Nick Cotric, Adam Elliott and Nick Meaney but I can't see any cause for concern.

In comes the jewel in the crown in Matt Burton, as well as one of the fastest fullbacks in the game in Matt Dufty, the game's best winger in Josh Addo-Carr and star forwards Tevita Pangai Jr and Paul Vaughan. Brent Naden is also a brilliant signing.

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The Dogs have added three strike weapons across their backline, two monster forwards and one of the game's next superstars in their halves.

Off the field they added Phil Gould, who is one of the smartest and most experienced operators in the game.

Talking Points:

Slow start?: The Dogs will run out with six fresh players in their side come Round 1. Those players will play in integral positions too. Dufty and Burton will need time to find their feet. They're both younger in new setups, and neither were regulars in their preferred positions throughout 2021. Paul Vaughan will also need time having not played since prior to the infamous BBQ saga. The Dogs may start slow and their fans can't expect the world right away.

Who Partners Burton?: This is the big question. Who lines up beside Matt Burton? Jake Averillo looks like the universal choice right now. He's in every predicted side I've seen. That said, the Dogs have a well-paid halfback sitting in the reserves by the name of Kyle Flanagan. In terms of pure talent, I'd back Flanagan. I saw what he did at the Sharks before a series of bad decisions led to him becoming the Dogs' scapegoat. No matter who it is, they need to provide more than a dance partner. Burton can't do it all on his own.

NSWRL Rd 2 - Mounties v Panthers
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 20: Matt Burton of the Panthers runs the ball during the round two NSWRL match between the Mounties and the Penrith Panthers at Bankwest Stadium, on March 20, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Number Nine: The other big question for the Dogs is who lines up in the nine? Jeremy Marshall-King has had moments throughout his brief NRL tenure. He has a much-improved pack this season, as well as a better supporting cast in the spine. This should see him improve. If he doesn't, then young Bailey Biondi-Odo will breathe down his neck. Jackson Topine is another option. They're flush with options but as it stands there isn't a standout. Marshall-King will probably start with Biondi-Odo coming off the bench. 40 minute split perhaps?

Key Player:

Matt Burton
Burton is one of the game's most talked-about recruits, and for good reason. He's a superstar in the making and arrives on the back of a 10/10 2021 season.

With his signing comes expectation and pressure, but Burton has more than enough talent to perform in a big way. I just hope Dogs fans are patient.

Burton dazzled in the centres for Penrith's title-winning side of 2021 but will become the Dogs' number one playmaker right off the bat.

There is so much to like about the youngster's game. I expect a massive season, albeit perhaps after a slow start as he re-finds his feet in a new side.

Big Season For:

Matt Dufty
Dufty was the Dragons' best attacking weapon in 2022 but was marched due to his inconsistent play. He now has a chance, at a new club, to re-establish himself as an NRL star.

Dufty has speed to burn and the skills to become a very dangerous ballplaying fullback if he can lift his game defensively and positionally.

A one year contract gives the Dogs room to move if it doesn't work out, but Dufty has a chance to nail down both the number one jumper and also a long-term contract.

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Dufty is the undisputed number one fullback on the Dogs roster and will have every opportunity if he's good enough. Strap in as this will be fun either way.

Breakout Star:

Aaron Schoupp
At 20 year's of age, 183cms tall and weighing in over 100 kilos, Schoupp is the modern-day centre personified.

Big, fast and powerful, this kid has a massive future ahead of him. If Schoupp lines up beside Burton and/or Pangai Jr, he could be fast-tracked in 2022.

The youngster played very well in very difficult circumstances during his 13 games in 2021. He is clearly the front runner to partner Brent Naden in the centres.

Expect him to not only match his three-try efforts in 2022 but smash them out of the park. A real talent!

Watch Rugby League Outlaws discuss the Bulldogs in their Season Preview

Fixtures to watch:

Round 1 vs Cowboys: Dogs fans have had a rough time of it over recent seasons. Round 1 will begin, what is hoped to be, a new era for the club. Every Dogs fan I speak to has said they're looking forward to Round 1 to put 2021 behind them. A very winnable game against the Cowboys should show where the Dogs are at. It will take time to gel and build but the wooden spoon favourites isn't a bad way to start a new era.

Round 2 vs Broncos: Following on from the excitement of seeing their new-look team run out for NRL action, Round 2 presents most fans the first chance to see them in person. A home game, again against very beatable opposition, on what should be a warm Sunday night. Perfect! Hopefully a sizeable crowd is on deck to cheer the start of a new era for the club.

Round 12 vs Dragons: The return to Belmore! As a neutral, this is one fixture I have circled. Form largely goes out the window on these sorts of occasions and I expect no different here. My early prediction is that this will be a sell-out (or as close to as allowed) as by then the Dogs should be flying. Another winnable game also. This should be fun.

Prediction:

The Dogs will be the undoubted improvers in 2022. They have to be. They were among the historically terrible teams in 2021, which forced one of the best recruitment drives in recent memory.

That said, they still don't have a standout partner for Burton in the halves, they have a part-time number nine and a fullback who was walked out of his club last year.

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2022 is a building year, in my view, for the Dogs. They will be instant improvers on the back of Addo-Carr, Naden and Burton being added to the backline. All three will add dimensions the club simply didn't have last season.

The pack is big, star-studded and intimidating. Something, again, you could not say about their 2021 counterparts.

Slow but steady is the game for the blue and whites. Get excited as something special is building, but it won't deliver totally in 2022.

2023 is the year the club returns to finals footy. Mark that down!

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