The Canterbury Bulldogs have been glued to the bottom of the NRL ladder for years.
Long a laughing stock of the NRL as they attempted to work their major salary cap problems out, 2022 is the year to turn it all around.
They have put a broom through their squad, signing more players than any other team in recent memory in an aggressive recruitment run.
Trent Barrett’s side, under the direction of new director of football Phil Gould seems primed for a much better season, but questions around whether they will gel, and what their best 17 actually looks like remains.
The recruitment report
Ins: Josh Addo-Carr (Melbourne Storm, 2025), Braidon Burns (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2023), Matt Burton (Penrith Panthers, 2024), Joshua Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2023), Matthew Dufty (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2022), Max King (Melbourne Storm, 2022), Brent Naden (Penrith Panthers, 2023), Tevita Pangai Junior (Brisbane Broncos, 2024), Paul Vaughan (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2022)
Outs: Renouf Atoni (Sydney Roosters), Dean Britt (released), Nick Cotric (Canberra Raiders), Christian Crichton (Penrith Panthers), Bradley Deitz (released), Adam Elliott (Canberra Raiders), Tyrone Harding (released), Watson Heleta (released), Will Hopoate (St Helens RLFC), Sione Katoa (released), Lachlan Lewis (released), Falakiko Manu (released), Nick Meaney (Melbourne Storm), Dylan Napa (Catalan Dragons), James Roumanos (released), Chris Smith (Penrith Panthers), Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (New Zealand Warriors)
Josh Addo-Carr, Paul Alamoti, Corey Allan, Jake Averillo, Bailey Biondi-Odo, Braidon Burns, Matt Burton, Joshua Cook, Nick Cotric, Matt Doorey, Matthew Dufty, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Kyle Flanagan, Jack Hetherington, Josh Jackson, Tui Katoa, Max King, Jeremy Marshall-King, Brent Naden, Jayden Okunbor, Tevita Pangai Junior, Aaron Schoupp, Ava Seumanufagai, Joe Stimson, Luke Thompson, Jackson Topine, Paul Vaughan, Corey Waddell, Brandon Wakeham
Who plays where?
There has been plenty of talk that Josh Addo-Carr wants to shift to fullback following his move from the Melbourne Storm system, but the New South Wales Origin winger should still start the season out wide.
Dufty will then have other competition from Corey Allan, but it's hard to see the exciting attacking weapon not being in the side for Round 1, even if his defence can be susceptible.
That being said, Josh Addo-Carr is just about the first player to secure a spot in this side, so he will most certainly line up on one of the wings following his move from the Victorian capital.
The other thing spot is up in the air.
Allan could again be in the mix for a spot out wide, while towering winger Jayden Okunbor could also be in with a shout.
Tui Katoa played nine games last year on the edge and did it well, averaging more than 100 metres per contest in a side who were badly beaten more often than they weren't.
It's going to come down to pre-season training as to who takes the spot, but Okunbor seems to have the X-Factor which the other two in competition don't, so he wins this spot having returned from injury with five tries in seven games at the end of 2021, including four in his last four games.
Moving further in field, and more recruits could headline the race for the centre positions, but it has to be said there is no certainty over who will be in the run-on side for the Bulldogs opening match of the season against the Cowboys here.
Brent Naden comes from the premiership-winning set-up at the Panthers and with mountains of potential. He got caught behind some talented options at Penrith last year and had to settle for just seven games, four of which came on the wing with another from the bench.
That doesn't mean he isn't the front-runner here though, impressing in each of those games.
The race for the other centre spot likely comes down to South Sydney Rabbitohs recruit Braidon Burns, or Aaron Schoupp, who could yet miss the start of the season with a shoulder injury, but is likely to claim a spot as soon as he is right to go having made 13 impressive appearances during his rookie season in 2021.
In this instance, Burns could well be fighting to be first reserve as he did at South Sydney alongside boom young gun Paul Alamoti.
The halves are anyone's guess. Matt Burton will certainly take one spot, despite spending most of 2021 in the centres at the Panthers.
He is a star of the future and will have the opportunity to make this his team moving forward.
Who partners him though is up for debate. Jake Averillo played most of the 2021 season in the halves and has an excellent kicking game, while Kyle Flanagan is going to be given a chance at some point to play behind a better team, with Phil Gould reportedly vouching for him to remain with the club are plenty of speculation over his future.
Brandon Wakeham has also impressed on occasion in the top grade, but is unlikely to be ahead of either Averillo or Flanagan in the pecking order, while the same could be said of Bailey Biondi-Odo, although his versatility means playing in the halves isn't his only option.
The former Dragon and Bronco respectively (and for a brief period, Panther) will add size and strength to this Bulldogs pack, although how Vaughan returns after missing the final eight games of 2021 through a suspension for an off-field COVID breach remains to be seen.
Regardless, he will be straight into the starting side, which is likely to push Tevita Pangai Junior out to the second-row. That is because neither Luke Thompson or Josh Jackson can possibly not be in the starting side.
Thompson was explosive in 2021, while Jackson is the beating heart of this Bulldogs side, regularly making north of 50 tackles at lock.
Expect Jeremy Marshall-King to be given first shot to fill the dummy half role, but he will need to perform strongly from the outset.
Marshall-King was a stop-gap measure who has turned himself into a genuine number nine.
Recruit Joshua Cook, who likely would have made his NRL debut at the Rabbitohs if not for COVID and injuries, is a star in the making and could well become part of the Canterbury first-grade side at some point this season.
With Tevita Pangai Junior not being needed in the middle third of the park, it means he can do what he does best - line up on the edge and become a wrecking-ball.
It's his strongest spot without a shadow of a doubt and absolutely where he should be playing.
The other spot is far more contentious though. Ordinarily, Raymond Faitala-Mariner would be the man to slot in, but he has barely played for two years and needs games in reserve grade, and then off the bench to work his way back to full fitness.
He will slot into the Bulldogs' best 17 off the bench, but not straight away.
Doorey would be the first choice, but is expected to miss up to half of the season. That means we leave him out of this best 17 and go with the experience of Waddell.
The bench utility role will be intriguing to see which way Canterbury go - do they take a punt on Joshua Cook wanting proper backup for Marshall-King, knowing he can shift to the halves if need be, or play Biondi-Odo?
With first-grade experience under his belt, you'd have to assume Biondi-Odo gets first crack, but it's not a certainty.
When it comes to picking the remaining three forwards, Faitala-Mariner will, if he can get back to full fitness, only take a few weeks until he is the first-picked out of the rest.
Coming out of the Storm system and with the ability to be a ball-playing lock, King takes this spot.
The best 17
1. Matt Dufty
2. Josh Addo-Carr
3. Brent Naden
4. Aaron Schoupp
5. Jayden Okunbor
6. Matt Burton
7. Jake Averillo
8. Paul Vaughan
9. Jeremy Marshall-King
10. Luke Thompson
11. Corey Waddell
12. Tevita Pangai Junior
13. Josh Jackson
Other best 17s
Gold Coast Titans
Manly Sea Eagles
New Zealand Warriors
North Queensland Cowboys
South Sydney Rabbitohs