The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have continued to make new signings for 2024 hoping to reverse the club's recent misfortune.
But the season so far has been a disappointment with the Bulldogs currently languishing in the 15th spot on the NRL ladder.
In an effort to move the club up the ladder, the Bulldogs have made several signings ahead of the 2024 season to bolster their squad depth, both in their starting lineup and to their bench.
Bulldogs 2024 Player Movements
But have they made the right signings?
Stephen Crichton is the current marquee signing for the Bulldogs and the premiership winner and State of Origin centre is expected to take on a new position when he lands at Belmore next year. Most pundits have Crichton pencilled in at fullback, a position he has played just 6 times at the NRL level (plus another in the World Club Challenge).
While most assume he'll be an upgrade over Hayze Perham and Jake Averillo who have worn the No. 1 jersey this year, questions must be asked if Crichton is indeed a fullback at all. All of Crichton's success at club, state and international level have come from playing in the centre position.
Speaking of centre, the Bulldogs have also signed former Cronulla Sharks player Bronson Xerri. Xerri was handed a four-year ban after the NRL's anti-doping tribunal found his actions to be ‘grossly negligent' following a positive drug test in November 2019.
Prior to his suspension, Xerri played a single season of NRL for the Sharks amassing a grand total of 22 matches. Again, most pundits have Xerri slotting immediately into the starting lineup for the Bulldogs in 2024 taking one of the centre positions.
This screams danger though. For a guy who has barely started his career and has been out of the game for four years, stepping straight back into first grade is not the right move.
A few games in NSW Cup at a bare minimum seem like a logical first step to re-introduce him to the game. Not to mention the fact that Xerri seems to have massively bulked up since he last played NRL, centre might also not be his best position anymore.
Both players are regarded as utilities and are likely to be considered as depth signings by most. But what if, and stay with me here because it's about to get a little out there, they are core signings for 2024 that allow the Bulldogs to re-invent their whole lineup.
Take a deep breath and let's dive into this. Below is an option that the Bulldogs could roll out (pending injuries) in Round 1 of 2024. It's different, some might say it's crazy but you know what, it might just work.
9. Reed Mahoney
So let's start with the fullback position. Blake Taaffe starts over Stephen Crichton. Taaffe has actually played over 30 games at fullback for the Rabbitohs which is vastly superior to Crichton's starts in the position.
While he doesn't have the size of Crichton, Taaffe is a much better playmaker and was considered by many to be the logical successor to Adam Reynolds.
These days, the fullback position for the most part is an extra playmaker and Taaffe gives the Bulldogs that. Not only does it allow them more playmaking in their lineup, it allows Crichton to stay at his natural (and best) position at centre. Win, win.
If Taaffe were not to start, it's likely he would be competing with Jaeman Salmon for the utility role on the bench. With Taaffe in the starting lineup, it allows Salmon, coming off a few winning seasons at the Penrith Panthers, to slot into the No.14 jersey.
His experience off the bench would be excellent and his ability to play in the centres, halves and even second-row give the team a huge amount of options should they be chasing points and struck by injury.
The next (and perhaps most) controversial change to the anticipated 2024 lineup is moving star Matt Burton to the centres. Now, this will no doubt be met with a lot of scepticism and probably plain outrage but once again, let's discuss it.
Burton is coming to the end of his second season with the Bulldogs after starting his career at the Penrith Panthers as a centre.
Much like Crichton, Burton has had success at club, state and international levels all playing at centre. The Bulldogs winning woes can't be solely lumped on Burton's shoulders in the halves but the facts are he is an excellent centre and has the runs on the board at the position.
Moving Burton to the centres though doesn't just allow the Bulldogs to have a star pair of players locked into that position, it also allows the club to play Karl Oloapu and Toby Sexton in the halves.
Since the mid-season signing of Sexton, the Bulldogs have looked much more composed on the field. Give him a full off-season to really gel with the rest of his teammates and he could cement himself in that position for years to come.
With Reed Mahoney at hooker, the Bulldogs then have a host of 5th tackle options right across the park.
The first choice would obviously be the halves but running on the 5th and having the ball in Burton's hand on the edge is an excellent option.
Likewise, Taaffe being able to insert himself into the line as a decoy or option means the opposition defence is left feeling like they need to cover more of the field.
If anything, the lineup pitched here might give the Bulldogs too many chefs in the kitchen so to speak but better to have too many options than too few.