Viliame Kikau and Jacob Preston celebrate during the round two NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and Canterbury Bulldogs at AAMI Park on March 11, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Grimes/Zero Digital Sports)

Those who haven't been paying attention will be unaware of the varying reasons for the Bulldogs sitting at the foot of the ladder for several years.

But the most attributable reason is the multitude of 'back-ended' contracts issued by former coach Des Hasler and approved by former members of the board.

Back-ending a contract was the practice whereby players were paid below market value in the first years of their contracts and then received an over-inflated amount in later years to manipulate the salary cap.

The year after the Bulldogs tore up Hasler's contract, the NRL stepped in and changed the rules to forbid these contracts.

"There is a very small number of examples, albeit problematic ones, where clubs have got into trouble ... and that has hurt so there's a desire for us to get involved and ensure that doesn't happen again," said the NRL CEO (at the time) Todd Greenberg.

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The number of back-ended contracts severely hampered the Bulldogs' ability to purchase new talent, and it also meant that they had to offload a significant number of quality players from the books between 2018-2020.

These players included James Graham, Sam Kasiano, Josh Reynolds, David Klemmer, Josh Morris, Brett Morris, Aaron Woods, Moses Mbye, Greg Eastwood, Aiden Tolman and Kieran Foran.

But since the start of 2023, the Bulldogs have managed to iron out the majority of their salary cap issues, with a reported '$7 million war chest' to play with. A number of high-profile signings have already joined, with more on the way in 2024.

And while 2023 was a season to forget on the back of an NRL-high number of injuries and a highly visible lack of cohesion.

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Regardless of your opinion on Phil 'Gus' Gould, he has one of the most experienced and insightful minds in the game, as well as the influence and ability to attract big-name players to the club.

Competition at the Bulldogs:
Likely top 17 and contenders for each position:

1. Stephen Crichton
2. Josh Addo-Carr
3. Bronson Xerri
4. Jacob Kiraz
5. Blake Taaffe
6. Toby Sexton
7. Matt Burton
8. Max King
9. Reed Mahoney
10. Ryan Sutton
11. Jacob Preston
12. Viliame Kikau
13. Karl Oloapu

14. Jaeman Salmon
15. Raymond Faitala-Mariner
16. Chris Patolo
17. Liam Knight

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Fullback contenders: Blake Taaffe, Stephen Crichton, Jacob Kiraz, Hayze Perham

Wing contenders: Josh Addo-Carr, Blake Taaffe, Jacob Kiraz, Jeral Skelton

Centre contenders: Reece Hoffman, Ethan Quai-Ward, Stephen Crichton, Bronson Xerri, Jacob Kiraz, Jeral Skelton, Hayze Perham

Five-Eighth contenders: Hayze Perham, Matt Burton, Jaeman Salmon, Blake Taaffe, Karl Oloapu

Halfback contenders: Toby Sexton, Matt Burton

Hooker contenders: Reed Mahoney, Karl Oloapu, Jaeman Salmon

Front row contenders: Liam Knight, Ryan Sutton, Chris Patolo

Second row contenders: Jacob Preston, Viliame Kikau, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Jackson Topine

Lock contenders: Max King, Kurtis Morrin, Jaeman Salmon, Karl Oloapu