Bronson Xerri will officially be able to begin training with the Canterbury Bulldogs in late September, but the club are still no closer to figuring out their best back five for the 2024 campaign.

While all focus will be on 2023 as the blue and white attempt to join the competition's surprise packets and qualify for the finals - the first time they will have done so in many years - under the coaching of Cameron Ciraldo, 2024 will be in the back of the mind for all club officials and supporters.

The backline too will full well know they are playing for spots.

News Corp has confirmed that Xerri will be able to return to training on September 24 at the Bulldogs following his four-year ban. While current players will be on leave at that stage, Xerri can have an extended pre-season, which, fitness permitting, will leave him in excellent shape on the approach to Round 1.

The signing of Xerri at Belmore raised eyebrows at the time and will continue to do so as the contract and back-five situation of the Bulldogs comes into focus.

Canterbury, through a mix of young talent and experience, has plenty of options to run out in the back five next season, and that is only added to by the addition of Stephen Crichton from the Penrith Panthers.

The star New South Wales and Samoan representative will likely take the fullback spot.

It's understood that was a key part of the reason he made the switch to Belmore after being promised the No.1 jumper by the club.

That hardly would be a surprise either given the way the number one jersey has filtered around the club in the last three or four seasons. Hayze Perham and Jake Averillo were set to fight it out this year, although Averillo has now become an out-and-out centre under Cameron Ciraldo, who believes he has all the tools to become one of the best in the game.

That means Perham is essentially on a one-season trial in the number one jersey, but even then, would have to do something incredible to keep Crichton out of it next season.

To this stage, Perham has played all seven games, and has been strong in his first season away from the Parramatta Eels, averaging 167 metres per contest. Only two try involvements show issues with his own, and the Bulldogs' attack though, and at this stage, it's hard to suggest he has done anything near enough to put a real challenge to Crichton.

That said, Perham is on contract next year, so will join the queue of players fighting or a jersey between two and five following the current Penrith Panthers' arrival.

Also on contract next year is Josh Addo-Carr, who is a walk-up starter in the Bulldogs' back five.

He is joined by young guns Paul Alamoti and Jacob Kiraz, who have wasted no time in cementing themselves as starting players in Ciraldo's back five.

Between Crichton and the three established players just mentioned, that's four spots gone, with one in the centres left.

Xerri would appear to have the inside running on that spot, but Jeral Skelton is pushing hard for a first-grade debut after excellent form in the NSW Cup, while we have all heard the comments from Ciraldo on Averillo, who, surprisingly, is yet to be re-signed for the 2024 campaign.

Here is the full list of Canterbury's current Top 30 outside backs and their contract status.

Josh Addo-Carr - Yes (2025)
Paul Alamoti - Yes (2024)
Jake Averillo - off-contract end of 2023
Braidon Burns - off-contract end of 2023
Declan Casey - off-contract end of 2023
Stephen Crichton - Yes (2027)
Reece Hoffman - Yes (2024)
Jacob Kiraz - Yes (2024)
Jayden Okunbor - off-contract end of 2023
Hayze Perham - Yes (2024)
Jeral Skelton - Yes (2024)
Bronson Xerri - Yes (2025)

Should the Bulldogs re-sign Averillo - as expected - that is going to leave he, Xerri and Skelton fighting for a single spot, while Reece Hoffman, who has signed on until the end of 2024, doesn't even factor in the discussion.

Braidon Burns and Jayden Okunbor, who are both fringe first-grade options, are off-contract at the end of the 2023 season and whether they are re-signed by Ciraldo, director of football Phil Gould and the club, remains to be seen, although both would add to the depth at Belmore.

The most intriguing decision Canterbury has remaining in its backline surrounds Declan Casey. Debuting last year, the youngster can play either centre or fullback, and would add more depth to the blue and white, although likely would expect first-grade playing time in his next deal - something Canterbury may frankly be unable to grant him.

More players than positions is potentially a good problem for Ciraldo to have, but it's one that he will need to manage carefully as Xerri makes his return to elite competition.