A significant age gap, a new coach and a first-week finals exit in 2016 – this season will be an interesting one for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.
This time last year, the Bulldogs were lining up season 2016 with the premiership in their sights and a wealth of NRL experience in their likely Intrust Super Premiership NSW side. The club would go on to take just one competition point from their first nine games, make an unexpected run to the finals and get bundled out in a golden-point thriller to Wyong.
Twelve months later the blue-and-whites have lost a number of key personnel, but welcome a host of talented Holden Cup graduates and experienced mentor Steve Georgallis. The Bulldogs’ 2017 squad of 13 features just two men over the age of 25: club veteran and first-time captain Ray Moujalli and former Wests Tiger Rod Griffin. That pair, alongside Georgallis, will be vital to the Bulldogs’ chances this year.
“It’s quite a young squad, which is similar to what I had at Penrith last year,” Georgallis tells NSWRL.com.au. “Sometimes it takes a little while for them to gel and get the combinations going, but from what I’ve seen so far they seem pretty well up to the standard.
“I think it will be a good year.”
Moujalli, who has been a consistent performer in the competition for 10 years and has represented Lebanon on 11 occasions, acknowledges the gap between young and old in the side, but believes Georgallis is the man to bring it together.
“There’s a bit of a gap between the young boys and myself but I’m fitting in quite well,” Moujalli tells NSWRL.com.au. “A couple of the young guys think I’m actually 20, which is good!”
“He [Georgallis] knows how to get the best out of each individual so I’m looking forward to the season with him.”
2016 IN 16 WORDS OR LESS
Season of two halves – one point from their first nine games, 20 from their last 14.
THEIR BIG FIVE
In his second year back at the club and first as captain, Ray Moujalli understandably has a big season ahead of him. He knows exactly what’s required but as a certified personal trainer, will be an asset in getting the most out of his younger teammates.
At 30 years of age, Rod Griffin brings a wealth of experience from the Intrust Super Premiership NSW, Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup and seven appearances for Papua New Guinea. A simple but effective forward.
Marcelo Montoya is perhaps the most hyped player in the Bulldogs’ squad, with 19 tries in 18 Holden Cup games last year. He has already played some Intrust Super Premiership NSW and is considered a bolter for an NRL spot later in the year.
In the Holden Cup, few have been more respected for the Bulldogs than Darcy Maroske. He was their Player of the Year in 2015 before captaining the side last year and representing Queensland along the way.
If any young second-rower is going to step up to lead this team, it’s D’Rhys Miller. The club’s 2016 Holden Cup Player of the Year will look to make his name heard in the senior level.
Georgallis knows how to bring an unfamiliar playing group together better than most; the 48-year-old has been at three different clubs in the past four seasons and likes what he sees at club number four.
The former Penrith, Manly and Wests Tigers mentor replaces Andy Patmore, who remains at the club in a newly-created Pathways Performance Manager role. Key to Georgallis’ success, of course, will be how he can work alongside head coach Des Hasler.
“I’ve never worked with Des – he’s very knowledgeable on the game and certain ways he does things,” Georgallis says. “It’s just about adapting to that. I’ve basically been with him two days a week, watching what he does with first grade and trying to bring that down to the Intrust Super Premiership NSW so there’s continuity.”
Georgallis has led teams to the finals three out of the five seasons he’s coached in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW, with consecutive qualifying finals exits coming in the past two years. That’s a fate the Bulldogs also suffered in 2016 but the mentor is clearly capable of progressing them further than that.
On the Intrust Super Premiership NSW Arrivals and Departures list, the Bulldogs are relatively notable; while their named squad consists mostly of players stepping up from the Holden Cup, they also welcome the likes of Griffin, Canberra Raiders young gun Zac Woolford, 2016 Intrust Super Premiership NSW Five-eighth Of The Year Josh Cleeland and prop Andy Saunders, who follows Georgallis from the foot of the mountains.
Outside backs Jarrod McInally and Reubenn Rennie, plus quality forwards Jake Kamire and Lamar Liolevave, will move on to other opportunities in 2017.
Last year threw up some unexpected scenarios for the Bulldogs and 2017 could do just the same, but with a few quality signings they should be well in the mix for a finals berth once again. Expect the club to be around the middle third of the competition, where they can challenge for the title come September.