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MICHAEL HAGAN: Why more than just a new coach is needed to fix Dogs' breakfast

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Expert
17th May, 2022
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Now that the Bulldogs have moved on from Trent Barrett as coach, they need to look at the big picture before they can get back to being a successful club.

The club’s legendary leader Peter “Bullfrog” Moore would often say the most important people in the organisation are the players.

And the roster is the main area Canterbury need to fix to give whoever their next coach is a fighting chance.

With Phil Gould calling the shots, he has got the big picture capability to sort out most things that need to be put in place for the Bulldogs to be successful again but he’s going to have to work through all sorts of salary cap limitations.

They’ve let young Brent Naden join Wests Tigers already and I think there will be a few more leaving the kennel in the coming months.

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Gus knew when he took the job on last year that he would have to make some tough decisions to reshape the roster but we also know he won’t be backward in coming forward on that front. 

He did similar when he started at Penrith when they had to release a few of their top players like Wade Graham, Luke Lewis and Michael Gordon because of their salary cap problems at the time.

Brent Naden

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

His job at Canterbury has been made more difficult with some of the players who they signed to hefty deals over the past year or two. They’ve snookered themselves with some of the panic buys that they’ve made to try and generate results quickly. 

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There’s some big numbers on the contracts of some of those guys like Tevita Pangai jnr and Luke Thompson. Even someone like Josh Jackson, who has been a loyal stalwart for a long time, they’re going to have to face a difficult decision with someone like him.

There will be several players and staff under review, not just the coach.

I can’t see how they can quickly trade their way out of it. It’s going to take a couple of years for the roster to truly take shape.

And that’s bad news for their frustrated fans who thought they were coming to the light of the end of the tunnel. It’s not Groundhog Day, it’s Bulldog Day.

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People were quick to criticise Des Hasler for what he did at the club but he got them to two grand finals and they made the playoffs most years he was there.

With the ordinary results they’ve had with a couple of inexperienced coaches in Pay and Barrett since Dessie left in 2018, I think they have to go with someone with runs on the board.

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In my view, there are three standout candidates in Shane Flanagan, Paul Green and Kristian Woolf.

Flanagan and Green won premierships at Cronulla and the Cowboys respectively and I think they will have both learned from how their time at those two clubs came to an end.

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan watches his team warm up

Shane Flanagan (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

They will have reflected on what they did wrong at each of their teams and have the necessary pedigree to take on a role like this.

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Woolf has spent the past couple of years with St Helens, he’s paid his dues as an assistant for a few years in the NRL and he’s racked up plenty of time and wins as Tonga’s coach so he’s someone who I think is worth a punt on by an Australian club in the next year or two.

Canterbury can’t afford to get this appointment wrong again. 

Flanagan, you would hope, could at least get the best out of his son Kyle although as we’ve seen this year with Jake Arthur at Parramatta, it can be an added problem when the coach’s son is in the team and there are questions around his position.

Some people aren’t starting halfbacks, some can handle that and some can’t and Flanagan is yet to prove he can be that person after three seasons of getting a chance at the Roosters and Canterbury.

The underlying problem with the Bulldogs’ roster is the key positions in the spine. They’ve got Matt Burton locked in at five-eighth and Reed Mahoney’s coming next year to be their hooker but halfback and fullback are ongoing issues. 

Reed Mahoney passes

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

I was lucky enough when I was playing at Canterbury that we had a strong leadership from Barry Nelson as chairman, “Bullfrog” Moore as the secretary – what we used to call the CEO back in those days, Warren Ryan as coach and a guy called Dave Cooper who was our strength and conditioning coach who made sure we were fitter than everyone else.

It’s not until you look back on that organisation that you realise how blessed you were. 

“Bullfrog” was ahead of his time in the clandestine ways he would get players from other clubs to Belmore, whether that was Terry Lamb from Wests or Peter Kelly from Newtown or the time he invited all the other club bosses to a restaurant for a feast while he was off signing the best young player in the country before they realised he wasn’t in attendance.

Nowadays it’s way more transparent with the media and player managers having a big say on who goes where, which makes it so much harder to find that diamond in the rough that Canterbury are going to need.

Maybe they’ll have to look in the Super League to see if there’s a halfback over there who could be the playmaker they need. It worked for Canberra a few years ago to bring in some UK recruits so it could be an option for the Dogs.

Getting the right people in the right roles is the key to everything.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 30: Bulldogs coach Trent Barrett coaches from the players bench during the round eight NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Sydney Roosters at Stadium Australia on April 30, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

The Bulldogs fans are fanatical. They always have been, going way back to when I was a player in the 1980s. They’re diehards, rusted-on fans who expect their team to play well and win their share of games.

I’m glad that when I was playing and then coaching it was before the social media age. You’d still cop it in the letters to the editor or on talkback radio but it’s nothing like the vitriol the players and coaches of today cop in the online forums and social media free-for-alls.

Those people are often experts in hindsight. My old Bulldogs coach Warren Ryan used to say it was very easy to be wise after the facts but you’ve got to be clever before the start of the game.

As for Barrett, I remember saying on radio a couple of years ago that he was taking on the toughest coaching job in the NRL and wasn’t sure whether taking that job would be the best thing for his career.

Trent who has been through a couple of tumultuous coaching experiences at Manly and the Dogs has to re-assess whether he wants to be a head coach again and the demanding pressures of the role.

He’s got to decide whether it suits him better to be an assistant where he did a great job at Penrith because not everyone’s cut out to be a head coach. 

Hopefully he’s still got a long future in the game whatever role he ends up in because I feel for the bloke with the way things have turned out for him at Canterbury.

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