SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 09: Nick Cotric of the Bulldogs and his team mates looks dejected after a try during the round nine NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, on May 09, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

After being struck by a COVID outbreak this morning, with reports of up to four positive RAT results, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs' worst fears have been realised as they will now be without 12 starting players when they come up against the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium this Friday night.

While injuries are certainly not the Bulldogs' only burden, and it shouldn't be the only thing to blame for the club's maligned start to the season, they will travel up north with eight of their troops in the casualty ward.

Paul Alamoti, Braidon Burns, Chris Patolo, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Jack Hetherington, Matt Doorey, Brandon Wakeham and Corey Allan are all unavailable for selection for the Doggie's upcoming fixture.

Again, this is commonplace within the NRL for every club to experience at one point or another throughout their season, however, the Bulldogs have now been bludgeoned with COVID - resulting in the loss of four more players.

Penrith Panthers Training Session
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 20: Brent Naden of the Panthers runs the ball during a Penrith Panthers NRL training session at Panthers Stadium on October 20, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

It's been confirmed by Bulldogs head coach Trent Barrett that the four players who tested positive were Jake Averillo, Ava Seumanufagai, Reece Hoffman and former Penrith Panther, Brent Naden.

According to Fox Sports, the players who contracted the virus were all attending a dinner, which also saw Tevita Pangai Jr, Kyle Flanagan, Aaron Schoupp, Bailey Biondi-Odo, Jayden Okunbor and Max King in attendance.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 20: Bulldogs coach Trent Barrett looks on during the round 15 NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Bankwest Stadium, on June 20, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

This incident will obviously call for a mass reshuffle of the Bulldogs lineup and has also seen Barrett, as well as club GM Phil Gould, to reach out to the league office for a special exemption to ensure the player roster is filled.

“At this stage we are still waiting on a few of the PCR tests, but we are expecting that some will come back positive because of the RAT tests," Barrett stated.

“As it stands there are four. So that is probably not our biggest problem. We have got eight others unavailable through injury and three fresh ones form the weekend so that is where the pressure is coming from.

“But we will get confirmation on the four guys this afternoon and hopefully over the next 48 hours there is no more.

“We have got to go to Brisbane tomorrow so logistically in and around that and who we get the players from.

“The NRL has been really good with admin working overtime to try and get some exemptions for players just in case we do get to Brisbane and there is more players that come down or test positive to it.

“No dramas about fielding a team. We will definitely be alright. We have got a few issues around our NSW Cup and our Jersey Flegg, which we have asked to postpone so that those games can go ahead, but in terms of our NRL game we will be fine.

“It is not great news, but it is what it is. We won’t be the first club to go through it. There is just a few more than we would have liked, but compounded by the injury list that we have got at the moment hasn’t helped.

“The injured players are Allan, Wakeham, Burns, Patolo, Hetherington, Faitala-Mariner, Doorey and Alamoti are not available through injury.

“Averillo, Seumanufagai, Hoffman and Naden have got Covid. So there is 12 which is a fair chunk of our 30 players.

“We will be fine. It is not ideal, but we have put together a side we know can be competitive.”

The club's request for exemption has also led to a response from NRL CEO Andrew Abdo, who told The Daily Telegraph that while there's a system in place to deal with these matters each situation is different.

2020 State of Origin Media Opportunity
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 27: NRL CEO Andrew Abdo speaks to the media during a State of Origin media opportunity at Pullman Quay Grand Sydney Harbour on October 27, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

“They have four people testing positive at the same time, we need to figure out what has happened there,” Abdo told The Daily Telegraph.

“We already have a system in place that allows clubs to draft in state cup players outside of their top 30. We made a provision for this at the start of the season.

“Four players is not an issue, 14 would be an issue. We’ll work closely with the club and we’ll wait to see, hopefully there are not any more positives, but if they are we have a system in place where they are able to draft players in."