Cameron Ciraldo’s mission to instill a tough edge to Canterbury will keep him busy in the off-season because they were yet again brittle in defence in their final match of the year on the Gold Coast.
The Bulldogs went down 34-30 to the Titans at Cbus Super Stadium to put a full stop on a disappointing season for both clubs.
“A terrible end to a horrible season for the Bulldogs,” was how their former premiership-winning five-eighth Braith Anasta described it on the Fox League broadcast before quickly diverting attention to Sunday’s later game between Cronulla and Canberra which had actual relevance.
For the visitors it was also the end to a controversial week in which the club was engulfed in controversy after it was revealed a Bulldogs player had taken mental health leave after being made to wrestle a long line of teammates as punishment for arriving late to training.
Co-captain Reed Mahoney and Ciraldo’s former mentor Ivan Cleary threw their support behind the rookie coach boss amid claims of overly strict training methods in the lead-up to the match.
An assistant coach in Penrith’s back-to-back premiership victories, Ciraldo has since doubled down on his approach, adamant that only hard work would lift the 15th-placed Bulldogs out of the mire.
But the Dogs again showed little bite on the field, conceding six tries to another team that will finish well outside the finals.
“I am just happy to get through today. I will think about that tomorrow. I did say we would review everything but we review everything every day,” Ciraldo said.
“I don’t want to talk about ladders. We have some guys coming in who love footy and are going to be good additions to our squad.”
The Titans dominated from the outset and after veteran five-eighth Kieran Foran sliced through for two tries in the opening quarter of the match, the home side was up 12-0.
Josh Addo-Carr hit back for the Dogs to halve the deficit but the Gold Coast went to half-time with an 18-6 advantage when AJ Brimson crossed just before the break.
Kurtis Morrin scrambled over to put Canterbury again behind by a converted try before Foran notched a rare hat-trick in the 53rd minute, the first in his lengthy career.
Addo-Carr’s second try again brought the Dogs into the contest but English hooker Kruise Leeming celebrated his final Titans appearance before a return to the Super League by scoring midway through the second half.
When winger Alofiana Khan-Pereira touched down in the left corner, Gold Coast had the match sealed at 34-18 with 12 minutes remaining.
A botched try by Matt Burton when he dropped the ball over the line proved costly. Addo-Carr registered a not so rare hat-trick when he spectacularly reeled in a kick downfield but despite a last-minute runaway try to Blake Wilson, the Titans held on to finish equal with the Dolphins with a 9-15 record but the new side leapfrogged them on for-and-against with their 34-10 upset win over the Warriors on Saturday.
The Dolphins have a potential injury concern from this match with 2024 recruit Jake Averillo hobbling off late with what was feared to be an ACL tear.
Ciraldo said an initial dressing room assessment had brought good news.
“It is better than we thought,” Ciraldo said. “The ACL feels pretty good so it could be just a PCL or a capsule thing, so good news there hopefully.”
Canterbury have now missed the NRL finals for the seventh consecutive season, an unacceptable result for such a proud club.
Matt Burton. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)
Ciraldo, in conjunction with Bulldogs supremo Phil Gould, will conduct a root-and-branch review of operations in the off-season.
Canterbury have secured Penrith duo Stephen Crichton and Jaeman Salmon along with Sydney Sydney’s Blake Taaffe and former Cronulla centre Bronson Xerri for 2024 to bolster the squad.
Their strong roster for next season will ensure Ciraldo is under the microscope should there be no dramatic improvement.
Jim Lenihan took over as interim Titans head coach after Justin Holbrook was sacked mid-season but has ensured the 14th placed team remained competitive before handing over to the incoming Des Hasler.
Lenihan will stay on board in 2024 as an assistant. “Hopefully we have started the ball rolling about shifting our mindset about what it takes for us to be a better football team,” he said.