To say the last few seasons have been challenging for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs is something of an understatement.
The now Manly coach Des Hasler departed the blue and whites in 2017 amidst alarming circumstances; where he and the board of the time appeared to have destined the club to mediocrity, after their questionable managing of the books.
In short, the colloquial “back-ended contract” bit Hasler and then Chairman Ray Dib in the bum. The playing roster was ageing, showing signs of fragility and even a series of desperate attempts to shed key players and free up a few dollars to replenish the stocks did little more than alienate fans, as they saw some of their favourite sons depart.
The farewells of Josh Reynolds and James Graham pulled at the heartstrings of every Bulldogs fan, as did some rather odd and seemingly ill-informed signings, with Aaron Woods proving the most obvious of those.
Replacing your heart and soul with players who appear to have neither is perhaps not the smartest approach boards of directors should take in attempting to build a premiership challenging squad that engages with fans.
In essence, the powers at be within the kennel mucked things up in a rather monstrous manner. Subsequently, on-field performances lacked grunt and character and the board was overthrown by a rebel ticket in early 2018, led by the daughter of the Bulldogs’ greatest administrator Peter Moore.
Lynne Anderson led a passionate campaign to return the famous club to its former glory. She was joined by names like Steven Price, Paul Dunn and Steve Mortimer; all men whose DNA looks nothing but blue and white when analysed under a microscope.
Anderson’s husband Chris appeared to be the brains behind the operation when it came to reviving the financials and regaining control over the salary cap. The premiership-winning coach with both the Bulldogs and Storm, Kangaroo mentor and former international representative comes with the highest of pedigree in the game.
When Anderson speaks, people listen, such is his status.
When I quizzed him on the length of time required to right the ship at the Bulldogs in early 2018, Anderson confidently exclaimed, “give me three years”. Business challenges have subsequently steered the veteran coach away from the club that his wife still steers and whilst much hope was held for the future, Canterbury still appears some distance away from the metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel.
2018 and 2019 were disappointing, despite both featuring a late-season run of wins that perked up an increasingly frustrated fan base. Dean Pay had been appointed in the last throws of the Dib led board, in their attempt to avoid a stay of execution by tugging at the heartstrings of the faithful.
In truth, Pay had little with which to work and his frustration grew as the under-strength Bulldogs took to the field week after week. All the while, the coach struggled with his supposed “million dollar man” Kieran Foran playing little football thanks to consistent injuries and a young squad that lacked the class and experience to match wits with the competition heavyweights.
In true rugby league form, the coach was eventually jettisoned midway through the 2020 season and experienced assistant Steve Georgallis took over.
After a competitive loss to the Dragons, a shock win at McDonald Jones Stadium against the Knights and a brave defeat at the hands of the Eels, the reality of the Bulldogs’ situation came clearly to light against the Storm in Round 13 of the NRL season.
Stung by four tries in the first 23 minutes of the match and trailing 22-0, the Bulldogs were treated like reserve graders by Craig Bellamy’s ruthless and effective machine, even without Cameron Smith.
The battle of the middle third was won categorically by the Storm, the defensive reads of the Bulldog backs were at times appalling and even the usual defensive application and resilience appeared absent.
It was an awful display, highlighted by the quality of the opposition.
Despite the hope presented in 2018 by the new board, some new signings and the decision to move on Pay amidst rumours he was not up to the task, few of their plans/moves have resulted in improvement.
The stark reality is that Canterbury sits 16th on the NRL ladder with two wins and eleven losses. They look the weakest roster in the competition and despite multiple rumours around future signings, it is hard to see Canberra representative player Nick Cotric proving the elixir to the bucket full of ills that the club possesses.
No one should kid themselves that the Bulldogs are improving. They are not and the club hit a new low with an embarrassing loss to the Storm on Saturday afternoon.