For the last four years, the Canterbury Bulldogs have been a woeful team in the NRL.
The reasons for this decline from two grand final appearances in three years in 2012 and 2014 have been written about and dissected extensively by every journalist and pub know-it-all but please allow this know-it-all to express his observations about the current plight and a possible resurrection of the blue and whites.
The salary cap management of the Des Hasler regime at the Bulldogs has rightly been criticised for the last three years. Back-ended contracts to players at the end of their careers crippled the NRL side, with new recruits Kieran Foran and Aaron Woods sucking up a large amount of available salary cap in 2018.
Hasler was sacked at the end of 2017 but the deals he made acted like a millstone around the neck of the Bulldogs for years to come. Woods would only stay for half a year, joining an exodus from the club in 2018 that included Moses Mbye, David Klemmer and the Morris twins.
The Bulldogs didn’t have a full salary cap until 2021 and were paying players to play against them for years after Hasler left. It was hard for Bulldogs supporters to watch James Graham play for the Dragons and providing their young players with an example on how to be a professional rugby league player.
It would be remiss not to mention the coaching situation at the Dogs during this time. After Hasler was sacked (and embarrassingly paid out the next year), the club brought in Bulldogs old boy Dean Pay to relive the glory days.
This appointment continued the dour style of play of the Hasler years, with Pay trying to bring through some juniors, partially due to the inability to spend the entire salary cap. These young players have not developed as hoped, with the struggles of the side in the last few years stunting this development.
Players like Jeremy Marshall-King, Jack Cogger, Lachlan Lewis and Nick Meaney have not improved as hoped, with Cogger leaving for England and both Marshall-King and Meaney in the final years of their contracts.
The young players in the NRL squad have been unfairly left trying to win games with little to no guidance from more experienced players, with Foran missing many games during his three seasons and the aforementioned loss of seasoned players in the preceding years.
The appointment of Trent Barrett as coach led to a number of new signings and the hope of a new dawn. The first games of 2021 have dashed those hopes, with players making all too familiar errors and bad decisions and a real lack of attacking capability.
To add to these problems, the defence of the Hasler and Pay eras has seemingly dissolved, with the team leaking almost 30 points a game. The team is sitting 15th, ahead of the Hasler-led Sea Eagles on for-and-against.
While things look pretty dismal for the Bulldogs at the moment (and could get really ugly with Souths and Melbourne in the next two weeks), there may be a way up.
The days of buying a premiership are gone and homegrown players developed through the club are the only way a team can consistently succeed. Teams like Penrith and the Roosters can provide the Bulldogs with a blueprint for producing quality first-grade players.
Penrith have a large talent pool with an enormous number of junior players while the Roosters are exceptional at identifying talent and recruiting early to bring young players in to their system.
Both of these methods could be used by the Bulldogs, with talent identification during the reign of Peter Moore the key to that success. The common factor in both of these approaches is that both are long-term plans, with both providing no relief for Dogs supporters anytime soon.
In the short term, there should be some changes for the next match with Souths. The NSW Cup side has played well at the beginning of the season, with the side having a solid win over Canberra.
Young juniors like Matt Doorey and Jackson Topine will come in to consideration and Brad Deitz may be eligible due to Marshall-King breaking his foot again.
While I don’t believe a win against Souths is likely, I hope for a better performance with effort and heart. After four years of mediocrity, we Bulldogs supporters hope for a change for the better.