2013 Season Review: CANTERBURY BULLDOGS

Canterbury - logoBy STEVE MASCORD

IN a way, these Rugby League Week year-enders can serve as historical records. You can leaf through old dog eared copies of the The Bible and relive what went right – and wrong – for your favourite team.

But in the case of 2012 grand finalists, the Canterbury Bulldogs, the full story probably hasn’t been told yet.

A season which promised so much ended on September 15 with a 22-6 elimination final loss to Newcastle at ANZ Stadium. The fact fullback Ben Barba failed to finish the game due to an ankle injury completed a sorry circle for the Bulldogs.

At the beginning of the season, Barba was suspended by the club for a month over “behavioural issues”. There is a photo of his former partner, Ainslee Currie, with a bleeding lip which remains unexplained.

And no sooner had Barba been stood down than rumours began to circulate over deep divisions in the first grade squad. By the end of the season, the daily press reported he was not even on speaking terms with many of his team-mates and had failed to finish counselling sessions which had been described by the club – at the time of his suspension – as mandatory.

It would take an extremely optimistic Dogs fan to maintain these internecine conflicts had not adversely affected the club’s bid to go one better on last year’s runners-up finish.

But many of these factors remain unexplored, the subject of speculation and supposition. There’s not much we can say about them here and that may remain the case for years, although continuing media enquiries into club CEO Todd Greenberg’s move to NRL headquarters could uncover more about events during the coming summer.

In the meantime, all we have are the results and the public utterances of those within the club on which to judge why 2013 fell so far short of expectations for the men from Belmore.

The 24-12 home loss to North Queensland – in a game shifted to BlueTongue Stadium – in round one was actually not as big an upset as it now looks, given that many pundits had installed Neil Henry’s side as premiership favourites.

Des Hasler’s side then snuck home against Parramatta in Sydney – another performance that looks worse now than it did at the time – before losing a tight one to Melbourne at AAMI Park.

Further defeats to South Sydney and Manly followed before a 38-0 belting by the Sydney Roosters exposed the depth of the club’s predicament.

The break for the representative weekend ushered in some signs of life.

There was a 24-8 win over Cronulla and crushing 40-4 triumph against Wests Tigers, followed by a tough 24-16 success away to the Warriors. Steadily, the Dogs began to rise back up the table.

Heading into round seven, they were last. Before round 10, it was 11th.

Then it all came crashing down again – and it was at the hands of the side that would eventually end their season. Newcastle 44 Canterbury 8 at Hunter Stadium on May 19 was a shock to the Dogs travelling supporters and brought the soul searching back.

Wins against Brisbane and St George Illawarra righted the ship somewhat and, heading into the Origin series, the blue-and-whites were ninth, but on the same number of competition points as the seventh-placed Knights.

The Origin period was initially kind to Canterbury.

A ten-point away win over North Queensland was followed by a two-point overtime nail-biter at Brookvale.

The tricolours edged out Hasler’s men by two, then the Knights continued to exert their hoodoo before the Bulldogs scored a remarkable 39-0 Sunday afternoon success over a severely depleted Melbourne.

Into the home stretch then, with the rep season over, and going into round 20 in sixth position. There are wins over Parramatta and St George Illawarra before a watershed home defeat to a gritty, determined Gold Coast on August 12.

As we know, the Bulldogs hung on to make the finals, dropping a couple more games including their final regular season fixture to Brisbane. But the consistency, which coach Hasler must have been confident would arrive eventually, never really showed up.

Hasler said of the final that put the dogs out of their misery: “That could be any game that we’ve tossed up in the last 10 weeks.

“I’m really disappointed with the ball (retention), I’ve been going on about that for a while.”

He insisted it was too difficult to sum up accurately why his side had not managed to recapture the magic of the previous year. “I think we’ve been pretty inconsistent,” he said.

“We’ve got an off-season to review it. We’ll certainly be doing that.”

Our season reviews are supposed to be about football, not off-field intrigue. But when one has an impact on the other, the dividing line becomes more than a little blurry.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

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