Written by John Davidson
There should be some rays of optimism at Belmore right now.
Yes, the Bulldogs have been a shit-show for a while. They finished second-last in 2020, and only won three games. In 2019 they were 12th and won 10 games. In 2018 they finished 12th and won eight games. In 2017 they came 11th and won 10 games.
They’ve dealt with salary cap pressure, boardroom stoushes, coach sackings, player misbehaviour, off-field incidents – you name it, it’s happened to Canterbury. It’s been a tough, difficult past four years.
But finally there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.
The Bulldogs now have some money to throw around in the transfer market. And for this season they have landed some big fishes in State of Origin outside backs Nick Cotric and Corey Allan.
Cotric is only 22 but has already played for Australia and NSW. The electric winger has appeared in a grand final and is a noted try-scorer and metre-maker. He is a great signing.
Allan is also 22 and debuted for Queensland this year. He had a great season at Souths in 2020 and can cover fullback and wing. Like Cotric, he has excellent potential. Canterbury’s backline is looking strong.
Thrown in Kyle Flanagan, also 22, who was discarded by the Roosters. While it may have not worked out for him at Bondi Junction, he has undeniable talent. And a big point to prove.
Old-school forward Jack Hetherington is another great pick-up. He caught the eye on loan at the Warriors and also comes from Penrith with a point to prove. Hetherington loves to intimidate and bash opposing props. Exactly what every forward pack needs.
"After the first week of training under Trent (Barrett), I called my folks and I said I’m so happy I stayed, I would be devastated if I left because I can tell things are really on the rise." – Adam Elliott.#proudtobeabulldoghttps://t.co/cZ2MNzMnz3
— Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (@NRL_Bulldogs) February 3, 2021
You throw in some of the talent that remains at Belmore – Adam Elliot, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Will Hopoate, Josh Jackson, Dylan Napa, Luke Thompson and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak – and you have the nucleus of a side that can challenge for a top eight spot for the first time since 2016.
It also gets better in 2022 with gun young half Matty Burton coming from Penrith and speedster Josh Addo-Carr arriving from Melbourne.
It all comes down to new coach Trent Barrett tieing it all together at Belmore, with Dean Pay making way.
Barrett did a good job at the Panthers as Nathan Cleary’s number two. As a player he did it all on the field. He was put through the ringer coaching at Manly, and surely learnt plenty from the experience. And he did have some early success at Brookvale before he axed. Now, with is second shot at the top at the NRL, he will know how to better handle the bumps and bruises.
At Canterbury Barrett will have more resources and better facilities to play with than at the Sea Eagles. That won’t be an excuse. At 43 he is no rookie with 72 first-grades coaching under his belt. He will also have experience at his side, in former Canberra and Leeds coach David Furner and ex-Hull KR boss Craig Sandercock, as his assistants.
No one is expecting the Bulldogs to be grand finalists in 2021, to be premiership winners. It will probably take a few years for the club to completely rebuild and rejuvenate.
But, like the Gold Coast Titans last year, there should be improvement on the field. Somewhere between 10 to eight victories is achievable. It’s possible they could even sneak into the semi-finals.
Time will tell. But for the first time, in a long time, the Doggies faithful can be feeling more positive going into another NRL campaign.