Canterbury coach Dean Pay can see the blue sky ahead at Belmore.
While the Bulldogs’ Mad Monday saga gave the club and the NRL a black eye, it shouldn’t take the gloss off what was a galvanising final few months of the season.
By any measure, 2018 was far from a success for the “family club”.
Bitter board elections and a salary cap squeeze, which resulted in Moses Mbye and Aaron Woods making mid-season departures, both contributed to their lacklustre results.
Both were out of the hands of coach Dean Pay and his players – and they showed what they could do over the finals last six weeks when they recorded four wins, including victories against top eight sides Brisbane, Warriors and St George Illawarra.
“From the word go we had a lot of challenges here,” Pay said.
“They’ve been well documented. We had to get through those challenges first and I think we have now.
“Next year we’re going to start with a settled roster. As far as our cap, we know what we’ve got, we know what we’re doing, we know where we want to get to. In that sense it’s really satisfying that we’re settled and we know what we’re doing.”
On their way to finishing 12th, the Bulldogs recorded 16 losses.
But in a sign of just how close they are to turning it all around, half of those losses were by six points or less.
And had they converted each of those eight defeats into two competition points, they could have finished equal first on the ladder.
“But we didn’t, that’s the difference,” Pay counters.
“Next year we want to turn those small losses into small wins.
“You’re not going to win them all but if we can win some.
“That’s our goal for next year, we want to give something to our members and fans who have stuck solid with us. There is a lot of good coming.”
So much of their fate will depend on the fitness of playmaker Kieran Foran, whose first year at Belmore was scuppered by a toe injury.
Pay was insistent that Foran, who has been dogged by persistent injuries throughout his career, could get back to his best and would be fit for day one of pre-season training.
“He looks really good, he’s got all his operations out of the road, his toe is really good, he’s tracking along really well,” Pay said.
“He’s happy and looks healthy and he’s really looking forward to getting some running into his legs, getting himself fit and back to the way we know he can play.”