Canterbury spent all year vowing to go one better, but in the end they fell two games short.
For the second time in Des Hasler’s tenure, the Bulldogs failed to return to the NRL decider in what is now becoming an elusive title for the two-time premiership-winning coach at Belmore.
This year they bombed out with a 38-12 semi-final defeat to the Sydney Roosters, literally throwing away an opportunity avenge last October’s grand final heartbreaker to South Sydney.
Not even a refereeing howler that handed Kane Evans a try for the hosts in the second half could stop Hasler from expressing his disappointment in his side’s error-riddled display on such a huge occasion.
For just the second time this year, the Bulldogs coughed up more than 14 turnovers in a match.
“Whether it was or wasn’t a try, it was more the focus on the whole game with the ball,” Hasler said following Friday night’s loss.
“To come up with 18 from 30 (sets) on one of the biggest nights of year was just really disappointing for the side and for the fans.”
Hasler’s men will now spend the entire summer ruing such a promising season that began with prized signing of fullback Brett Morris finally re-uniting with twin brother Josh.
Their trophy prospects only grew after opening with three wins inside the first month.
However a controversial Good Friday defeat in the grand final rematch cost the side more than just the two points.
Skipper James Graham, David Klemmer and Sam Kasiano all received suspensions from the last-gasp loss, while Morris and Tim Lafai both suffered long-term injuries.
From there the Bulldogs lost four of their next five games and sunk to a season-low 13th spot on the ladder.
“Looking back now, it probably rocked us a bit harder than everyone thought it would,” Morris told AAP of the aftermath from the game.
But, led by Hasler’s finals ability to deliver in the clutch, Canterbury moved back into contention by winning it’s final six games of the regular season to seal fifth spot.
Another title shot loomed, even withstanding season-ending injuries to key men Trent Hodkinson and Michael Lichaa.
However the Bulldogs spluttered at the business end, stealing a golden point win over St George-Illawarra in the elimination final, before being punished by the Roosters in the second week.
“That’s what was really disappointing about tonight – I just don’t think we gave ourselves a chance at all to get into the game… we’ve got an off-season to think about it,” Hasler said.