Phil Gould
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 18: Former Penrith Panthers General Manager of Football Phil Gould in the mounting yard to watch his horse Jailbreak compete in race 1 during Sydney Racing at Rosehill Gardens on May 18, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

The ‘new era' of the Canterbury Bulldogs got off to what could only be described as a slow start in 2022, with the club struggling through the first part of the season under Trent Barrett.

Despite a host of off-season roster additions, the same problems plagued the Bulldogs over and over again, before Barrett and the club eventually went their separate ways, leaving Mick Potter to take over for the remainder of the season.

Canterbury would ultimately show some improvement under Potter, but still fall well short of the mark, finishing in 12th spot, a staggering 14 points out of the top eight, and only 6 points ahead of the Wests Tigers, who finished at the bottom of a pretty miserable pile.

More signings, and the arrival of Cameron Ciraldo from the Penrith Panthers to take over coaching duties should have the Bulldogs going in the right direction for 2023, but there will be plenty of water to pass under the bridge as the men in blue and white try to crack for the finals for the first time in a long time.

That said, there are still gaps in this squad, so if they could steal one player to continue improving their fortunes, with no salary cap or contract concerns, who would it be?

Current squad

Josh Addo-Carr, Paul Alamoti, Corey Allan, Jake Averillo, Bailey Biondi-Odo, Braidon Burns, Matt Burton, Brandon Clarke, Declan Casey, Andrew Davey, Raymon Faitala-Mariner, Kyle Flanagan, Samuel Hughes, Viliame Kikau, Max King, Jacob Kiraz, Reed Mahoney, Joseph O'Neill, Jayden Okunbor, Tevita Pangai Junior, Chris Patolo, Franklin Pele, Hayze Perham, Jacob Preston, Jeral Skelton, Ryan Sutton, Luke Thompson, Jackson Topine, Corey Waddell

NRL Rd 19 - Bulldogs v Titans

Analysis

The Bulldogs have welcomed the arrivals of Ryan Sutton, Reed Mahoney and Viliame Kikau who will all slot straight into the best 17 for the 2023 season, but there are still some glaring issues within the club's best side.

While half of the spine is now completely taken care of, with Matt Burton to wear the number six, and Reed Mahoney the number nine, improvements seem to be desperately needed at the back and in the seven - two of the most important positions in the team.

Kyle Flanagan and Jake Averillo are serviceable players who will hold the jumpers next year, but without major improvement under Cameron Ciraldo, neither are going to be the players who are able to push the Bulldogs forwards towards a drought-breaking top eight appearance or potentially even better.

While they seem to be the two most glaring issues, it's worth crediting the Bulldogs where it's due.

Raymond Faitala-Mariner's return during the second half of the 2022 campaign has added plenty to the edge, as will the arrival of Viliame Kikau. In all likelihood, the duo will be the starting second rowers, meaning that Tevita Pangai Junior and Andrew Davey, who both have the ability to play in the middle or on the edge, will be used in impact roles off the bench.

The backline too has plenty going for it. We all know and understand the talents of Josh Addo-Carr, who might have missed New South Wales Origin selection in 2022, but is still one of the best wingers in the game and proved that to be the case during an incredible Rugby League World Cup campaign with the Kangaroos in England.

Jacob Kiraz has been impressive during his time in first-grade and will likely line up on the other wing, while a combination of Braidon Burns, Declan Casey and Paul Alamoti will fight for the centre spots.

The middle third does appear to be potentially down a powerhouse, with the Bulldogs farewelling Paul Vaughan during the off-season.

He was better than just about anyone gave him credit for during 2022, and while Sutton arrives to likely play 13, and the club will be hoping to have Luke Thompson back to his best, the rest of the brigade just looks a little skinny on depth.

Max King is likely the other starter, and was quite strong throughout 2022, while Davey and Pangai Junior off the bench as mentioned brings the Bulldogs added versatility.

Franklin Pele is a good addition as well across from the Cronulla Sharks, but again, it all feels one strong forward short of being able to push the top sides in the competition.

Options to steal

Option 1: Nathan Cleary (Penrith Panthers)
When it comes to picking the best halfback in the competition, there is little doubt that Nathan Cleary is the man.

The Penrith gun starts for club, state and country, and has barely lost a game in the last couple of years.

He has now led the Panthers to back-to-back premierships, and while the critics remain, it's hard to pinpoint a player who has been as consistent as Cleary in the last 36 months.

He would also bring the advantage of the Penrith system to the Bulldogs, with he and Burton on the same page.

A combination of Cleary and Burton makes sense, and would undoubtedly have the potentially to morph the Bulldogs into something far greater than they currently are.

NATHAN CLEARY
Halfback
Panthers
2022 SEASON AVG
0.8
Try Assists
0.2
Tries
381
Kick Metres

Option 2: Jahrome Hughes (Melbourne Storm)
If it wasn't to be Cleary, then you could easily head to Melbourne.

What the Bulldogs need is a winning culture installed at the club. You can see they have attempted to do that through their key signings for this year, with Kikau out of Penrith's system, and Mahoney coming from the Eels.

The Storm are potentially the most winning system in the NRL though. They are always thereabouts, and a big part of the reason for that - even if he doesn't get the credit of some of the players around him - is Jahrome Hughes.

The star halfback, who also plays for New Zealand, has been excellent over the long-term for the Storm, but does his job with minimal fuss.

Playing alongside the likes of Cameron Munster, Ryan Papenhuyzen and Harry Grant, he doesn't need to be the incredible operator either. He understands his role, and would likely do similar alongside Burton at the Bulldogs.

JAHROME HUGHES
Halfback
Storm
2022 SEASON AVG
0.5
Try Assists
0.7
Tries
228.1
Kick Metres

Option 3: Junior Paulo (Parramatta Eels)
When looking at a forward the Bulldogs would like to gain, the ‘type' of forward is almost as important as the qualities they would bring on-field.

They have plenty of big-minute players in Luke Thompson, Ryan Sutton and Max King. Their impact off the bench is also secure through Pangai Junior.

But what they lack is a player who can do it all.

Need a 20-minute burst of energy? Junior Paulo can provide.

Need someone to play 60 minutes of high production footy? Junior Paulo is again the man.

The Parramatta prop has been thrown into plenty of differing situations over the last few years and handled them all excellently. He would also bring more of the winning culture to Canterbury.

He understands what it takes to get the job done, and would be an excellent addition for some of the younger players at the club to learn off as well.

JUNIOR PAULO
Prop
Eels
2022 SEASON AVG
134.6
All Run Metres
0.1
Tries
1.2
Tackle Breaks

Option 4: James Tedesco (Sydney Roosters)
The NRL has a rich list of talented fullbacks. From Tom Trbojevic to Ryan Papenhuyzen, to Kalyn Ponga and Scott Drinkwater, they seem to be everywhere you look.

But there are none better than James Tedesco, and if the Bulldogs are going for an upgrade with winning culture - well, simply put - they want the best.

Tedesco has been at the top of the NRL for the best part of five years. He captains his club, state and country.

Simply put, there is no more professional player in the competition.

JAMES TEDESCO
Fullback
Roosters
2022 SEASON AVG
0.6
Tries
0.4
Try Assists
6.3
Tackle Breaks

The verdict

As much as the club could benefit from another forward, if you are only allowed to steal a single player, that isn't where the pick is going.

Nor is it going to fullback. Jake Averillo showed some promising signs in 2022, particularly during the back half of the season, and while he still has a long way to go to become a top echelon fullback, he will be serviceable for the Bulldogs.

What Ciraldo's side need more than anyone is a conductor of the attack, so this comes down to the two halfbacks.

In one corner, you have Hughes, who is used to playing with the jack in the box style of Cameron Munster. Matt Burton is, in some ways, similar, so the combination could suit.

But Nathan Cleary is the best halfback in the game, and has the added advantage of being out of the same system as Burton at the Panthers, so this seems like a bit of a no-brainer.

Nathan Cleary.

Be sure to check back in tomorrow as we take a look at the Cronulla Sharks.

The 2023 NRL Season is just around the corner and the Zero Tackle Season Guide is back! Get everything you need, from team lists, fixtures, statistics and a profile on every single player in the competition in our 2023 NRL Season Guide. Available now!

1 COMMENT

  1. It’s interesting how people can accept the analysis, yet draw different conclusions.
    The common criticism of Cleary is that he is great playing behind a dominant pack, but struggles when his forwards aren’t going forward.

    This may be because Cleary is so good that this is the only criticism that people can raise, and it is true that _any_ half back can look really good if his pack are monstering the opposition and giving him plenty of time and opportunity to look creative.

    The conclusion I draw from the analysis is that the Dogs would get best bang for their buck from Junior Paulo – generating the go-forward that will give Kyle Flanagan the opportunity (for the first time in his career) to show how good he can be.

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