NRL Rd 2 - Bulldogs v Broncos
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 20: Matt Burton, Josh Addo-Carr and Matt Dufty of the Bulldogs celebrate a defensive effort during the round two NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Brisbane Broncos at Accor Stadium, on March 20, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Last season the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs sat dead last and had won a total of six games across two seasons.

The decline began with their second salary cap breach in 2016 and has remained steady.

Zero top eight finishes, and after barely avoiding the spoon in 2020, they took it out in 2021. In finishing last, some of the most passionate supporters in rugby league were wondering if things would ever turn around.

It would now appear that they finally have.

With the signing of Matt Burton, the stars began to shift over Bankstown. Add to that Josh Addo-Carr and a resurgent Kyle Flanagan, and it is more than a shift; it is an alignment.

Now the future is equally as exciting, with Cameron Ciraldo linking up with the club on a monster five-year deal that will see him take over the running of Belmore.

Yes, they remain 12th, one place below the best Dogs finish post-2016. But there’s undeniably something in the air, and it began in round 14.

When the final siren sounded on June 13, nobody expected it to be locking in a 34-4 result showing the Bulldogs over the Parramatta Eels, yet there it was — highlighted by a double hat-trick of Addo-Carr tries and Matt Burton assists.

The Eels have lost many games this season they should have won, but this was different. The Bulldogs produced a true flogging, not a last gasp game stealer.

Making it more impressive is the star-studded team the Eels sent out. Clint Gutherson, Mitchell Moses, Dylan Brown, Maika Sivo and future Bulldog Reed Mahoney were all there, and they were all outdone. Suddenly the runt of the litter was gone and, in their place, stood giant killers.

The following week they kept up the pace, producing a 36-12 victory over the Wests Tigers. Their Round 8 victory over the Sydney Roosters now looked like less of a fluke and more of a pivotal moment in a team learning how to win again - something that will be critical as more new arrivals attempt to guide them through the 2023 season.

There is still a long way to go, and they need to remember how to hold onto leads, as the North Queensland Cowboys once again proved a fortnight ago.

But gone are the days of overpaying aging players, and in are the days of young excitement machines. With Viliame Kikau and Mahoney coming in for 2023, the Bulldogs truly have changed their stars.

It now looks only a matter of time before they become a true force in the NRL.