Fans And Experts Backing The Bulldogs Again

Although they limped into the finals, fans and experts are backing Canterbury for the NRL Premiership after the Dogs showed their teeth in round one

Four teams are fighting for the 2014 NRL premiership but which Sydneysider will claim the ultimate prize on Sunday October 5? Souths are favourites ahead of the Roosters while the Panthers are still outsiders despite an incredible season so far. Then there’s the Bulldogs; beware the Bulldogs. The Boys from Bankstown are just 2 wins away from their first premiership since 2004. They came close in 2012 before falling to Melbourne at the final hurdle but can Canterbury go all the way this year and complete a fairytale finish for their departing captain Michael Ennis.

Hot and Cold

The Bulldogs inconsistent season has seen plenty of high points but also some embarrassing lows. They were around $13 to be the premiers before their campaign kicked off but drifted considerably after a slow start which saw them lose 2 of their first 3 games. But round 4 started a stunning run which would see the Dogs drop back under double digits to be the Premiers. Canterbury won 7 straight games to lead the competition in round 11.

The Origin period affected the Bulldogs. They lost their next 3 matches on the bounce to drop back to the pack before a round 13 win over the Raiders in Canberra was followed by 2 gusty victories over Manly and Melbourne. However the Origin aftermath and injuries were about to take its toll. The Dogs lost 5 matches on the trot and were suddenly in danger of missing the 8. They steadied the ship with a comfortable win over the Tigers before beating finals rivals Parramatta, and despite dropping their final 2 regular season matches Canterbury finished 7th with 13 wins. Their final fixture against the Titans summed up the back end of the year, an error riddled second half saw the Dogs blow and 18 nil lead to go down in golden point. The Bulldogs had limped into finals and were expected to be out in week 1.

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Finals Form

In the first 2 finals Souths smashed a flat Manly while Penrith upset the Roosters, suddenly Canterbury and Melbourne’s side of the draw didn’t seem as tough. The Storm were at home in the sudden death final and the money came for Melbourne, while the Dogs who’d won just twice in their last 8 matches had been written off. It’s exactly how the visitors wanted it despite heading into the game full of confidence. They’d already beaten their opponents twice in 2014 including a 6-4 grinding victory at AAMI Park. The Dogs were dazzling in a remarkable first half display as they racked up 24 unanswered points by the break. They defended with guts after it to secure a stunning victory. Tim Lafai stole the headlines with a stylish hat-trick while Englishman James Graham was immense in attack and defence. But it was Canterbury’s all round performance that sounded out the alarms…. the Dogs had their bark back.

Unfortunately for Canterbury there’d be no more flying under the radar after that result. Their premiership betting odds plummeted from $40 to $7 in the space of a week. They were favourites to beat a struggling Sea Eagles side and book a preliminary final birth. And after another electric opening the Dogs dashed to a 16 nil lead but unlike Melbourne Manly clawed their way back. But the Dogs wrestled momentum and stole a 1 point lead through Trent Hodkinson only for the Sea eagles to strike back for a second time. In Extra time Blues halfback Hodkinson had the game on his boot, and another field saw the Bulldogs survive a scare.

Next up Penrith, a side Canterbury hasn’t beaten this season. But their big names are now hitting top gear. Josh Reynolds has rediscovered his form while Hodkinson’s heroics have him riding high. Their backline’s been bagging points while James Graham is leading the forwards charge through the middle. The Panthers at ANZ stadium is practically a home game for the Bulldogs and the Blue and White army will be out in full force expecting their experienced side to end an exuberant Panthers dream run.

Two-time premiership winning coach Des Hasler is the master of down talking his teams but he also has a knack of getting them to peak at just the right time, and the Bulldogs have proven that in the finals so far. Should they get past Penrith they won’t fear the Rabbitohs or Roosters having beating both those sides this year. Those wins were part of 8 matches Canterbury won by 4 points or less this season, proving they’re the Dogs of war in tense matches. It’s another weapon in their arsenal in what’s sure to be a gripping race to the title. It’s no secret Ennis the Menace gets under the skin of almost every opponent he comes across and few players in the competition would like to see him lift the silverware, but the crafty combatant will leave nothing left in the tank as he aims to leave the club in the best way. Two games down two to go, the Dogs are daring to believe.