Ben Barba has been in electrifying form for the Bulldogs this season.
Home Record: 8 wins, 4 losses (=6th)
Away Record: 4 wins, 8 losses (9th)
Longest Winning Streak: 3 (Rounds 1-3)
Longest Losing Streak: 3 (Rounds 8-11; Rounds 17-19)
Players Used: 30 (=6th most)
Player Of The Year: Aiden Tolman
Tries Scored (After 26 rounds): 79 (10th)
Tries Conceded (After 26 rounds): 80 (=7th)
A season of internal turmoil eventually killed off Canterbury’s title aspirations as well as the job of head coach Kevin Moore. It also coincided with the retirement of captain Andrew Ryan, who at 32 figured enough was enough.
The Bulldogs have never been known as a club that airs dirty laundry but the leaks about Moore’s position being under threat throughout the season just kept getting louder and louder… and sure enough proved spot on.
The coach was axed – well, he was told he wasn’t required for next season so he opted to walk away – leaving Jim Dymock to take over as caretaker. Shortly afterwards Ryan pulled the plug on his esteemed career.
It was enough of a distraction to see the side go through a 10-week mid-year period prior to and just after Moore’s sacking with just two wins.�
The team did try a mini-revival with five wins from the final seven games but it wasn’t enough.
In the final wash-up the Bulldogs finished with enough competition points to be in the finals… but a poor differential ensured it was Newcastle playing on instead.
Where They Excelled… The Bulldogs were the entertainers once more, with some absolutely scintillating long-range tries. With Ben Barba at fullback the side was deadly from anywhere and he helped the team to 27 tries from inside their own half, 10 more than the nearest NRL rival club. Barba posted 13 tries from distance in a sensational season. The Bulldogs were also a decent offloading team, averaging 12.7 a game to be ranked fifth in the NRL. And – believe it or not – they were the fourth-best side in the NRL when it came to conceding line-breaks… shame it didn’t translate into a stronger overall defensive display.
Where They Struggled… Their woes can be traced heavily to their limited go-forward, and inability to limit the go-forward of the opposition. They averaged just 1307.5 metres a game which had them ranked 13th in the NRL and were then hammered by oppositions, conceding an average 1464.9 metres. This had them ranked last in the NRL and meant on average they were getting out-gunned by more than 157 metres each week… not the recipe for success.
Aiden Tolman was the only forward to average triple figures in metres, a source of embarrassment for the club’s pack. Despite Barba’s brilliance Canterbury also struggled to bust tackles, ranking a lowly 12th, and conceded the fourth-most offloads – perhaps negating some of the neat second-phase play they produced.
If you are looking for a simpler explanation the word ‘consistency’ has to be thrown up: after starting the year with three straight wins the Bulldogs never won more than two in a row.
Missing In Action… Injuries popped up here and there but not to the point the proud club would lay blame. Greg Eastwood missed a chunk of footy and representative hooker Michael Ennis sat out the entire back-half with a serious neck issue. Josh Morris also missed a bit of football through injury (and another game when Dymock sent him to the NSW Cup due to a lapse in form).
Turning Point… There are so many parts to a season that can be considered turning points when you finish so close to the finals. Just one more win and the season is judged much differently. For the Bulldogs, was it the three-game losing streak to the Broncos, Dragons and Raiders by eight, five and eight points respectively? Or was it the loss to the Sharks in Round 15 at home, which made it five in six games and intensified the rumours of coach Moore’s impending demise? They managed a win after that but backed it up with two more losses… and then Moore was gone. In their semi-impressive run home they let a game slip against fellow strugglers the Roosters and then, despite having several great chances to put the Sea Eagles away at Brookvale in Round 24, they fell short. It was effectively ‘goodnight nurse’ right there.
Best Games… Perhaps we need to rewind to Round 1 when the Bulldogs knocked off the highly touted Wests Tigers 24-14. They actually beat the Wests Tigers twice in the year, the Cowboys minus Johnathan Thurston and the Knights in Round 25 – but they were the only wins against eventual top-eight sides.
Speaking of the Round 25 clash with the Knights… it was probably their best effort. In a game they had to win to keep slim finals hopes alive the Bulldogs found themselves down 22-6 at halftime and seemingly headed towards oblivion. But a ferocious comeback saw the side prevail 32-22 in a match that included perhaps the greatest put-down for a try the game has ever seen. Ben Barba’s effort to pull the ball back from the dead-ball line and place it down mid-somersault has to be seen to be believed (do yourself a favour and look it up on the Games Analyser).
It was also nice to see the side beat Canberra in the final round to send Ryan out a winner, with Bobcat crossing for a try.
Worst Games… There were plenty of disappointments but perhaps the Round 13, 38-4 hammering at the hands of the Sea Eagles really showed where the minds were during the rough patch. If you want to give Manly more credit, just look forward a few weeks to the next game after a bye: Canterbury were embarrassed by Cronulla at home, rolled 26-10.
Other than the Sea Eagles debacle their other big loss was a 36-12 loss to the Warriors, which was Dymock’s first in charge after Moore chucked him the keys two days before. The side led 12-0 before getting pummelled.
Hold Your Head High… It was obviously a tough season for the Bulldogs but Ben Barba was a true highlight. It must be said you can’t necessarily call his transition to fullback a complete success, because he had some defensive issues and trouble under some kicks, but in terms of his attack… wow! A final-round haul of four tries ensured he joined Nathan Merritt as the season’s top try-scorer (with 23) and his all-round play produced 30 line-breaks and 117 tackle-breaks.
Andrew Ryan battled hard to the end, allowing him to leave the game on a positive note – his toiling service to both the Eels and the ’Dogs over the years was a pleasure to watch.
Captain Andrew Ryan says… “We probably hurt ourselves in the middle part of the season,” he admits” “The other games… probably six weeks ago against the Roosters and against Manly a couple of weeks ago… we had our opportunities this year but unfortunately we didn't get there. “We gave it a red-hot crack in the last eight weeks of the competition and that's what I’m proud of.”
Conclusion… It was a disappointing year for a side many tipped to surge back into premiership contention. New halfback Trent Hodkinson succumbed to a small dose of second-year syndrome and the side failed to get any sort of fluency of style or consistency of effort. Any season where a coach is gone mid-year is generally a write-off; the Bulldogs must regroup, find a leader both on and off the field, and start again.