20/04/2024

Bulldogs players training this preseason. Photo: bulldgos.com.au

Expectations are high for the Bulldogs in 2022, as their star recruits signal a new era in Belmore, but will it be enough to play finals?

After spending the last five seasons in the bottom four positions of the ladder, the Bulldogs are ready to bounce back with a host of new recruits bring some vibrancy back to Belmore. Can those recruits gel in time to see this proud club rebound up the ladder quickly or will it be more disappointment?

Last season

The 2021 season was a year of evaluation for new coach Trent Barrett. With a host of new players already announced to be joining his squad for 2023, his main aim was to find out how much of his squad he could continue to develop.

Even though everything was pointing to a disappointing season, the Bulldogs struggled to show even flashes of brilliance early on in the season only securing one win before their round 13 bye.

They also had the worst offence in the league scoring 106 less points than their closest competitors the Broncos, a potency issue they have looked to rectify through their acquisitions.

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Bulldogs last season, with Barrett uncovering a few hidden gems as the season progressed.

Jake Averillo thrived under the pressure of being the teams halfback, with his ability to run and kick the ball making him an exciting prospect moving forward. His most dazzling display came in the teams second win for the season against the Dragons, were he crossed the line for 2 tries, ran for 122 metres and kicked for 566 metres.

Young centre Aaron Schoupp also impressed in his 13 appearances averaging 140 run metres, breaking 33 tackles and scoring 3 tries. His performances should see him suit up with a much more potent backfield unit this season.

Squad changes

In:

Matt Burton (Panthers), Josh Addo-Carr (Storm), Brent Naden (Panthers), Matt Dufty (Dragons), Paul Vaughan (Dragons), Tevita Pangai Jnr (Broncos/Panthers), Josh Cook (Rabbitohs), Max King (Storm), Braidon Burns (Rabbitohs), Reece Hoffman (Wests Tigers).

Out:

Nick Cotric (Raiders), Nick Meaney (Storm), Renouf Atoni (Roosters), Will Hopoate (St Helens), Adam Elliott (Raiders), Lachlan Lewis (released), Dylan Napa (Catalans), Sione Katoa (released), Dean Britt (released), Chris Smith (Panthers), James Roumanos (released), Brad Deitz (released), Watson Heleta (released), Kiko Manu (released), Christon Crichton (released), Ofahiki Ogden (released), John Asiata (released).

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Track watch

The mood in Belmore this preseason has been buoyed significantly by the arrival of their big name recruits.

Josh Addo-Carr and Matt Burton have bought a newfound energy and experience from successful clubs that has this team believing anything is possible.

It’s not only the recruits that are performing well this preseason.

Prop Jack Hetherington is looking to find new life in the back row with his speed and strength looking to be real asset on the edge this season.

Young centre Paul Alamoti has also been training well putting the pressure on some senior players in an attempt to secure a spot in the starting 17 come round one.

What to expect

Expect all round improvement from Barrett and his men in 2022, revitalised in both attack in defence.

In 2021, the Bulldogs had the worst offence and defence in the league only scoring 340 points while conceding 710.

With the additions of notable try scorers from 2021, such as Addo-Carr (23 tries), Burton (17) and Matt Dufty (10) expect the Bulldogs to be able to put scoreboard pressure on.

With the addition of Burton, who will move into the halves after spending the season in the centres at Penrith, the Bulldogs fans should also expect their team to be able to put the ball in much more attacking positions. If they can repeat their set completion numbers from 2021 (80%), they will be even more damaging with their fifth tackle options.

In 2021, their defence was left to too few with the additions of Paul Vaughan and Tevita Pangai Jr set to sure up their forward pack and take the pressure off Luke Thompson and skipper Josh Jackson

It’s a big year for?

Kyle Flanagan

Much maligned during his time in the league, now is the time for talented halfback Kyle Flanagan to stand up and show that he is a NRL calibre player.

After being sensationally dumped by the Roosters at the end of 2020, Flanagan was given a lifeline by the Bulldogs but failed to cement his spot in the side when given the chance.

However, with an enhanced squad in 2022, there should be less pressure for Flanagan to carry the team allowing him to be at his creative best if given an opportunity.

The pressure is on for the 23-year-old, with the Bulldgos administration already showing a propensity to move off players they don’t think are up to the task.

Flanagan in action for the Bulldgos last year. Photo: bulldogs.com.au

Biggest unanswered question

Will the recruits gel in time to see final action?

Big name recruits don’t always ensure success, it takes time for players to build the synergy and trust required to win a big final.

Addo-Carr, Burton, Dufty, Vaughan and Pangai Jr no doubt have the talent and the experience to slot straight into the team and have an impact. While the likes of Brent Naden, Josh Cook, Max King, Braidon Burns and Reece Hoffman are more than capable foot soldiers, the question remains whether or not they can be around the mark when the end of the season rolls around.

The team will need to firing from the get go with a tough opening six weeks playing all of last year top four teams from rounds three to six. Before playing a series of teams they will need to beat if they wish to feature in finals.

Accounting for the strength of their schedule, it will become clear at the midway point of the season whether the team has what it takes to play finals.

Coach pressure index

Low

After one year in the top job Barrett will be given the necessary time to develop his new look squad, but the pressure to perform has definitely increased.

If he fails to bring together his talent and at least show glimpses of talent for future seasons expect the pressure to be turn right up for 2023.

Predicted round one lineup

The Bulldogs big name recruits should slot straight into the starting team come round one, with Pangai Jr to shift to the edge in the hope of providing some big plays.

Averillo should get first crack at the halfback jersey, but may shift to the centre if Flanagan can find form in NSW Cup early on in the season.

High flying winger Jadyen Okunbor may be a bit of a left field selection but if the Bulldogs continue to complete at a high rate he may be a dangerous aerial fifth tackle option.

Ladder Range

10th – 14th

While all signs currently point to a marked improvement for the boys from Belmore, the whole competition looks to be as even as it has for some time, with the last two spots in the top eight to be hotly contested yet again.

The top six will remain hard to crack, at least for this season while the list of teams competing for two spots continues to grow.

Finals won’t be the only performance indicator the Bulldogs will be worried about. If they can see some marked improvement in both their offence and their defence the results will come soon enough.

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