NRL Rd 18 - Rabbitohs v Bulldogs
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JULY 18: Bailey Biondi-Odo of the Bulldogs celebrates a try during the round 18 NRL match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Cbus Super Stadium, on July 18, 2021, in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Former Canterbury Bulldogs and St George Illawarra Dragons' prop James Graham has raised concerns over the club's direction for the remainder of the 2021 season, asking what they are building for.

His concern and criticism of the club comes following the Canberra Raiders loaning Ryan James and Corey Horsburgh to Belmore to cover an unrelenting toll of suspensions and injuries.

The Bulldogs are without three normal starters all due to suspension. Luke Thompson, Jack Hetherington, and Dylan Napa are set to return in rounds 23, 24, and 25 respectively.

The two-week loan deal will see Thompson return to action while the pair are still at the club, although Canberra coach Ricky Stuart admitted he would reassess the situation following a long-term suspension to Corey Harawira-Naera.

NRL Rd 8 - Bulldogs v Rabbitohs
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 05: Luke Thompson of the Bulldogs smiles during the round eight NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Bankwest Stadium on July 05, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Canterbury are also missing Chris SmithRaymond Faitala-Mariner, and Ofahiki Ogden due to injury.

Despite a depleted roster, Graham believes that the decision of the club to loan players isn't in the club's best interest. He instead thinks there are better options for filling their team. Developing and providing opportunities for their own young players would set the club up more for 2022 and beyond.

“With the Bulldogs, and I don’t know the ins and outs of it, but it seems so strange to me when a lot of the focus has been on next season, and the hope for next season with the new signings coming in, that they would go out and sign (loan) two players from the Raiders,” he told the Big League Wrap.

“I know they are missing the likes of Hetherington, Napa, Thompson who has been outstanding all year, in that middle position. But you’re coming up against the Warriors, why don’t you give (Jackson) Topine or some other young forwards that you might need to draw on next year.

“I like the loan system, I really do, but in Canterbury’s situation, to get two middle forwards in. I would have liked to see someone debut first.”

Horsburgh and James were some of the Bulldog's best players over the weekend. Graham still questioned whether it was the right decision for his former club.

“(The Bulldogs) are going to finish (in last place),” Graham said.

“What are they building for? To try to beat the Warriors today, or are they looking for the future."

“If all the talk is about next year, it doesn’t really matter what happens today. They probably were their two best, but it matters not.”

The strategy that Graham wants the Bulldogs to follow is actually the path that their round 22 opponent followed.

A few weeks ago, the Warriors had found themselves in a similar situation. They too were down a significant number of players, having up to 11 missing in action.

Coach Nathan Brown decided to use the rest of the season to improve his current list. Realising that this season wouldn't lead to success, they will build for the team's future.

The Warriors had a crisis in the forwards which has still unrelenting with Leeson Ah Mau heading home, and Matt Lodge and Kane Evans suspended. They welcomed back Wayde Egan on the weekend in a much needed boost.

Warriors prop Leeson Ah Mau (Image: Andrew Cornaga/PhotoSport)

“We are very grateful for that (teams offering to loan players), but loaning players is not going to help us build our club for next year,” Brown said after his side's victory over the West Tigers.

“We want to win, but we’d rather win with our own players.”

The decision has already begun to pay off for the Warriors. They have won their past three matches while developing some of their younger talents despite being badly understrength.

Graham might get what he asked for as the Bulldogs could be forced to inject some more youth into their side sooner than they expected. It was reported that the pair might be brought back early due to Canberra's growing injury and suspension lists.

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