NRL Round 1 predicted teams: Canterbury Bulldogs – Yet another roster overhaul but finals drought looks set to continue
As part of a series profiling the expected Round 1 sides for all 17 NRL clubs in 2024, it’s time to see if the Bulldogs can finally lift themselves out of the doldrums.
The Bulldogs have undergone yet another roster overhaul in search of success.
For a proud club which has not made the finals since 2016, it’s been a dark period for the Dogs and year two of coach Cameron Ciraldo’s tenure brings greater expectations after finishing 15th in his first season at the helm.
There is plenty of talent at Canterbury with Matt Burton, Reed Mahoney, Josh Addo-Carr, Viliame Kikau and now Stephen Crichton on the books.
But the big-name recruits have not translated to success in recent years so this time around, apart from Crichton, they have picked up reliable first-graders rather than stars.
The No.7 jersey remains a problem area with ex-Titans half Toby Sexton, a mid-season acquisition last year, to get first crack at striking up a successful halves partnership with Burton.
Crichton is the marquee addition and will get a chance to establish himself at his preferred position of fullback after being stuck in the centres at Penrith due to the presence of Dylan Edwards.
Former Sharks young gun Bronson Xerri will try to resurrect his career in the centres after serving a four-year ban for performance-enhancing drugs while Warriors forward Josh Curran should bring plenty of much-needed mongrel to the Dogs pack.
Bulldogs general manager Phil Gould has signed a slew of utility players who can cover the edge, spine and backline positions with Blake Taaffe (Rabbitohs), Jaeman Salmon (Panthers), Roosters duo Drew Hutchison and Jake Turpin), Kurt Mann (Knights) and Connor Tracey (Sharks) giving Ciraldo plenty of options for the make-up of his side.
Ex-Roosters prop Poasa Faammausili could be a useful pick-up after underwhelming stints at the Dragons and Dolphins as the Dogs lack depth in the middle forwards.
Tevita Pangai jnr’s decision to retire despite having a year left on his lucrative deal was a major surprise but Luke Thompson returning to Wigan was not.
Local juniors Jake Averillo (Dolphins) and Paul Alamoti (Panthers) had the potential to form a long-term centre combination but they were both allowed to leave.
Kyle Flanagan’s turbulent stint at Belmore is over after he linked with his dad at the Dragons while second-rower Corey Waddell has gone back to the Sea Eagles and outside backs Braidon Burns and Declan Casey haven’t been retained.
Key spots to unlock
It’s probably easier to list the ones that are locked in.
Burton will be five-eighth, Mahoney at hooker, Kikau on the left edge, Foxx on a wing and everything else up for grabs.
The serious neck injury to Karl Oloapu means Sexton is almost certain to play half although that is Hutchison’s preferred spot and he did well in limited opportunities there last season at the Roosters.
Tracey is too good a player not to be in the starting side somewhere while Mann will likely be used as a starting lock or lightweight bench middle backing up the bigger boppers.
After asking for a release in the off-season, veteran forward Raymond Faitala-Mariner is now set to stay but could be struggling to make the top game-day 17.
Getting cohesion in the side will be a priority for Ciraldo early in the season with so many new faces and although their depth has improved on recent seasons, they again can’t afford too many injuries as they don’t have many experienced options in reserve.
Round 1 predicted team
1 Stephen Crichton
2 Jacob Kiraz
3 Bronson Xerri
4 Connor Tracey
5 Josh Addo-Carr
6 Matt Burton
7 Toby Sexton
8 Liam Knight
9 Reed Mahoney
10 Max King
11 Viliame Kikau
12 Jacob Preston
13 Josh Curran
14 Drew Hutchison
15 Ryan Sutton
16 Kurt Mann
17 Jaeman Salmon
Other squad members: Karl Oloapu (injured), Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Blake Taaffe, Bailey Biondi-Odo, Kitione Kautoga, Blake Wilson, Jordan Samrani, Sam Hughes, Jeral Skelton, Jake Turpin, Hayze Perham, Chris Patolo, Zac Montgomery.