Saturday, 10 September 2016

NRL Title Contenders: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (2016)

All year the Bulldogs have battled with themselves to try and put a run of consistently good performances together. They’ve pulled off some great victories, such as their 18-12 win over Melbourne in Round 6 and a 40-14 walloping of the Broncos in Round 16, but these have been mixed with some scratchy wins and poor losses. They are arguably in their best form of the season now, having won seven of their last nine games which has them sitting fourth on the ladder.

Why They Can Win
Their forwards. The Bulldogs have a huge and aggressive pack, but they aren’t all just bulldozers. They are involved in plays, have a solid passing game and can be found loitering as support players as well. This makes them a handful to contain in the middle and often presents opportunities to their backs. The subtle skill and dynamic impact of James Graham, Sam Kasiano, Greg Eastwood, David Klemmer and Josh Jackson make them a unique team and a hard one to defend against.

Why They Can’t
Inconsistency. All year they have drifted in and out of games, posting big scores like 40 against good defensive units like the Broncos and then a few weeks later, struggling to score 13 points against the weaker defence of the Dragons. They can also let their bundle drop completely despite good form, as seen in Round 20, when the Cowboys beat them 36-0 after the Dogs had won their last four games. Halves Moses Mbye and Josh Reynolds, while often brilliant, epitomise that lack of consistency.

Key Player
James Graham. The British prop and Bulldogs captain is a ‘lead by example’ man and he has been in brilliant form all year. He lays the platform via the hard yards up the middle for his fellow big men such as Aiden Tolman, David Klemmer and Sam Kasiano to replicate, which they largely have done. 

This rolling power game up the middle allows the rest of the players time and space on the edges of the ruck to do their thing, while his ball-playing ability renders him arguably the most well-rounded front-rower in the game.

Squad Health
The Bulldogs are only missing back-up centre Chase Stanley for the season with a knee injury.

Finals Record 
The Bulldogs have played 92 Finals games, winning 51 games and losing 41. They have won 11 of their last 19 finals matches, dating back to 2004. The club has a reputation for making deep finals runs, qualifying for grand finals from sixth (1995), ninth (1998) and seventh (2014) since the five-team finals series was abandoned.

Run Home
Despite having two home games to close out the season, the Bulldogs by no means have an easy run. On Thursday night they host the resurgent Cowboys, who will be hoping to swap places with the Bulldogs and get back into the top four. Then in the last round they take on Souths, who have finally found some form of late and have a similarly skilled forward pack and dangerous backs such as Greg Inglis and Alex Johnston. Both games will be hard slogs in the middle and could be quite taxing leading into the finals.

**This article appeared on the Commentary Box Sports website**

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