About a month or so before the season finished last year, Canterbury fans won’t have been looking forward to this year but their form improved dramatically and now there is plenty of optimism heading into the new year.
Their mid-season signing of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak helped finally plug the hole that was created when Moses Mbye left for Wests Tigers and their backline features many promising names but also some established NRL talent like Will Hopoate and Reimis Smith.
The side is likely to be very similar to the one that ended last year with Jack Cogger and Lachlan Lewis in the halves and the forwards led by stalwart Aiden Tolman and Origin star Dylan Napa.
Corey Harawira-Naera settled in excellently after his move from Penrith Panthers during the winter of 2018 and he helps make up a back three of their pack which also includes captain Josh Jackson and Adam Elliott.
The Bulldogs have signed bench forward Joe Stimson from Melbourne Storm and have back-up pace demons such as Christian Crichton, Kerrod Holland and Marcelo Montoya waiting in the wings in case injuries take hold.
Coach: Dean Pay
Dean Pay (above) has done an admirable job with the Bulldogs since his appointment in 2018. The Bulldogs haven’t had the best squad on paper in those years, but he’s done well to bring through some young talent and their charge towards the back end of last year made many sit up and take notice.
The side focused on their defence more in 2019 and it paid dividends. With a wooden spoon on the horizon, they surged away from the bottom of the table.
Pay’s deal runs out at the end of the year after he signed a 12-month extension in March last year.
Star Player: Lachlan Lewis
Lachlan Lewis (pictured, top) is one of the players that has benefited from Dean Pay’s coaching. Lewis ousted Matt Frawley from the Bulldogs’ team and established himself last year, despite injuries and the presence of experienced pivot Kieran Foran, as the club’s top halfback.
His kicking game is excellent, but he does have a lot to live up to as the nephew of Rugby League great Wally Lewis.
He is likely to be partnered with Jack Cogger in 2020, with Foran waiting in the wings if needed but the future very much lies with Lewis and Cogger.
Rugby League World Predicts: 11th
First published in Rugby League World, Issue 467 (March 2020)