Report Card 2013: Bulldogs

0 Submitted by on Wed, 18 September 2013, 01:24

“Success is like anything worthwhile. It has a price. You have to pay the price to win and you have to pay the price to get to the point where success is possible. Most important, you must pay the price to stay there” – Vince Lombardi.

Considered by many as overachievers in 2012, how do we assess the Bulldogs’ performance in 2013 now that they have exited the finals race? Having scoured the many Twitter responses by fans, observed various online forums, listened to endless radio feedback and spoken to several die hard Bulldogs supporters, here is what I believe to be the general consensus about the Bulldogs’ performance in 2013.

On the back of an exceptional “honeymoon” season for coach Des Hasler, a freakish Dally M winning effort from Ben Barba and going within a bounce of the ball (yes, I’m referring to that dreaded bounce when Josh Morris nearly scored) of challenging for the 2012 Grand Final, expectations were understandably high for 2013.

“You’ve gotta lose one to win one”, they say. Whoever “they” are, obviously didn’t foresee what was about to transpire in 2013. The season could not have started any worse for the Bulldogs. Aside from having key forwards Frank Pritchard, Sam Kasiano and British Bulldog James Graham missing for the early part of the season, the controversy surrounding Ben Barba’s personal issues, which resulted in a four week rehabilitation sentence, threatened to derail the season before it really got started.

The team managed to regroup and, despite ongoing controversy, managed to string together a six from seven game winning streak during the middle part of the season, to position themselves comfortably in the top eight. It must be said though, at no stage was the team anywhere near as convincing or dominant as they were last season. Their best performance (39-0 win) was against a badly depleted Storm team missing their origin stars. Something was wrong. The fans knew it. Although deep down, they were hoping the Sleeping Giant of the competition was going to awake when it mattered most, just as they did in 1995 and again in 2004.  In both those years, the team was embroiled in controversy: 1995 – The Super League drama split the team down the middle and in 2004 the “Dogs of War” managed to win the title despite the 2002 salary cap drama and the Coffs Harbour incident. Unfortunately, the 2013 version could not quite live up to their famed predecessors and went out without even a whimper in, what must be described as the most inept and listless performance of the season, given what was at stake. They lost 22-6 to the Bennett-lead Knights. In all honesty, the scoreline flattered the team.

So, what happened? Given a roster that would be the envy of most other clubs, why did the Bulldogs fall apart the way they did? In the post semi final match interview, both captain and coach appeared totally clueless to offer any plausible explanation of what went wrong. Coach Hasler merely offering a review of the season as the only reasonable compensation. On behalf of the fans: THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH! The fans and sponsors deserve more than the rubbish that was dished out throughout the season. Where is the accountability? Des Hasler needs to communicate the outcome of his review and do so prior to the Grand Final. That’s the very least he can do.

Ben Barba

Well may the fans say “good riddance” to the once revered hero to many children, but the disruption, division and destabilisation that Ben Barba created  throughout the season can never be underestimated. Rumours still persist of the trauma the alleged domestic incident with partner Ainslee Currie created amongst the player group. If the rumours are right, the players are also glad to see the back of him. That would explain why the only person who comforted Barba when he went down injured and eventually stretchered off the field was Akuila Uate….

Tony Williams

T-Rex was more like D-Sexed! The most over paid and under performed player in history. He makes Adam Blair look like a superstar. What does it take to drop him to NSW Cup Des?? Maybe your job? Yes, we understand he had personal issues, but tell me some one who doesn’t? Yes, he did look good in patches, but that’s not good enough in this league! Yes, you can blame the attacking structure but there is no reason for someone of his stature and ability not to go looking for the ball and actually running on to it for a change. Take a leaf out of Frank Pritchard mate!

Michael Ennis

He has not been the same since his knee/leg injury two years ago. Whole-hearted and guides the team but has lost his zip and concedes too many stupid penalties to be captain of the side. Des really needs to re-think the captaincy. Maybe it’s time for Ennis to make that smooth transition to the media….

Half Back

Fans generally like Trent Hodkinson but, like Ennis, has lost his pace after suffering his knee injury. Does not control the game like a true half back does. Bulldogs desperately need a halfback, like the top teams have, to guide the team and control games.

Des

To be honest, I’m not sure if his heart is blue and white. My gut feel is he still bleeds maroon and white. I know most fans feel the same way. Where has the emotion gone? There’s no animation, no screaming, no smashing of dressing room doors! His understudy, Geoff Toovey, shows a hec of a lot more passion for his team than Des Hasler does. The way Chris Anderson and Steve Folkes were able to take control and gel their respective teams in 1995 and 2004 despite all the controversies, all the mayhem and apply a siege mentality approach to the team environment is something Des can learn from. First, he must be passionate about the club and its proud history. Not just simply be an employee of the club but actually a part of the fabric of the club. Des Hasler is a great coach and will learn an incredible amount from this year. However, 2014 will be his defining year as a coach. Fans will only endure so much notwithstanding a great first year.

Positives?

Plenty. The emergence of Dale Finucane, Josh Jackson and Tim Lafai has been stunning. I can’t wait to see that continued improvement in their game. I’d love to see Finucane given the licence to play with the ball. He could be one out of the box. Hopefully, David Klemmer can remain injury free next year and we can see the best of him. I believe Josh Reynolds will win the Dally M Player of the Year this year. He is an outstanding and whole-hearted player who will form the nucleus of the team for the next five or more years. Everything about Reynolds is Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs. Finally, the fact that the team made the eight despite all the problems augers well for the future.

Overall Score?

C+. The Bulldogs made the semi final despite playing inconsistently all year. One can only imagine what the season would have yielded if only they could have replicated the first 20 minutes vs Manly (at Brookvale oval) on a consistent basis?

What next?

I guess losing three freaks in ten years (Thurston, SBW and Ben Barba) will hurt any team. But not the Bulldogs. There’s always a new one around the corner. They may be bought eg Jarryd Hayne, Will Hopoate or Kevin Locke, or bred from their successful under 20s team. As for the first grade squad, I believe some of the players will be put on notice. Players like T-Rex, Sam Kasiano, Michael Ennis, Trent Hodkinson and Mitch Brown must be sailing close to the wind. Their positions must surely be tenuous at best. I would’ve droppped Mitch Brown and kept Krisnan Inu for the semi final…

As “they” say: to win a competition, you need everything going right on and off the field. Look at the top four teams this year. I believe Des Hasler, being the great thinker he is, will learn a lot from this year. Expect him to be more “in control” and less patient with his players and staff. Whoever looks after attacking structure will need to get their act together in a hurry. Our attack all year has been pedestrian. Expect that to change next year. I believe the Dogs will start hard next year and lead from the front.

Indeed, success does have a price. The Dogs have paid that price. I believe Vince Lomardi’s words will ring true in 2014.

 

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