BULLDOGS BRUSHED: Canterbury coach Des Hasler's team is being shunned by experts as NRL title contenders
BULLDOGS BRUSHED: Canterbury coach Des Hasler's team is being shunned by experts as NRL title contenders PAUL MILLER

Bulldogs muzzled by the experts

RUGBY LEAGUE: After years of attempting to fly under the radar, Des Hasler's Canterbury are finally the NRL's underdogs.

Despite having reached the past five finals series, playing in two grand finals and boasting an impressive side on paper, traditional premiership powerhouses Canterbury are friendless among punters, critics and experts heading into next week's opening-round match against Melbourne at Belmore Sports Ground.

It seems the Dogs have distemper.

The TAB has Canterbury paying the club's longest price in eight years to win this year's premiership, a juicy $23.

Punters have outlaid more money on wooden-spoon favourites Newcastle than Canterbury.

"Are you dreaming? The Bulldogs are the Bulldogs - they demand success," said former Canterbury forward Paul Langmack, who won four premierships at Belmore in the 1980s.

"They make the finals all the time. When was the last time we missed the semi-finals?

"Our coach Des Hasler has made two grand finals in five years.

"The Bulldogs have made 18 grand finals in 82 years. If Hasler had been coaching for 82 years, we would have made 32 grand finals.

"What's the problem?"

Experts from The Daily Telegraph and Fox Sports have submitted their top-eight predictions for Saturday's NRL season guide, and 12 of them believe Canterbury won't play finals football.

Always open for a "We're under the radar" quote, Hasler preferred not to comment.

Many rival coaches are shocked at Canterbury's healthy odds given their star-studded side, which boasts James Graham, Josh Jackson, Moses Mbye, Josh Reynolds, Sam Kasiano, Will Hopoate, David Klemmer, Aiden Tolman, Greg Eastwood and the Morris brothers.

"We always hate playing Canterbury - they are tough, physical and know how to win," one coach said. "They have a winning culture most clubs would only dream about."

Canterbury's insult among the experts comes as the NRL officially launches its season in Martin Place at lunchtime on Thursday.

All 16 club captains will appear at the launch which is expected to draw a healthy crowd yearning for rugby league to return.

The last time Canterbury was at such long odds to win a title was back in 2009, when paying $34. The previous season the club finished last after Sonny Bill Williams walked out mid-season.

And the Dogs finished second in 2009 and would have been minor premiers if not for being deducted two competition points due to an interchange breach.

"The Bulldogs have drifted from $15 to $23 to win the premiership," said TAB spokesman Matt Jenkins. "The Newcastle Knights at $151 have even had more money bet on them.

"It is a hugely open competition but the Bulldogs have failed to attract any real support in the off season. Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers share favouritism at $7.50. The Panthers are the best backed team firming in from $9."