Canterbury focusing on what's ahead this season. (Image: Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs/X)

Injuries, conflict between players and coaches, and horrible defence were the really big themes and events that occurred during the Bulldogs season in 2023, finishing as the third-worst team in the competition.

Last year

The Bulldogs had a lot of high expectations in 2023 with massive recruitment and a new coach Cameron Ciraldo.

The season progressed and the club fell apart trying to build stability, as well as the depth being tested with lots of injuries and suspensions, as well as off-field drama.

What the Bulldogs benefited from was the progression of Jacob Preston, who instantly impressed the league as a quality back-rower and has made strides in his game.

Troubled by a combination of factors, the Bulldogs finished 15th and have looked ahead for the 2024 season.

Squad Changes

Ins: Stephen Crichton (Penrith Panthers), Josh Curran (NZ Warriors), Poasa Faamausili (Dolphins), Drew Hutchinson (Sydney Roosters), Kurt Mann (Newcastle Knights), Jaeman Salmon (Panthers), Blake Taaffe (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Connor Tracey (Cronulla Sharks), Zane Tetevano (released – Leeds Rhinos, Super League), Jake Turpin (Sydney Roosters), Bronson Xerri (returning from suspension)

Outs: Paul Alamoti (Penrith Panthers), Jake Averillo (Dolphins), Brandon Burns (South Sydney Rabbitohs NSW Cup), Declan Casey (West Tigers train and trial), Andrew Davey (Parramatta Eels, medically retired), Kyle Flanagan & Raymond Faitala-Mariner (St George Dragons), Michael Gabrael (Cronulla Sharks), Zac Montgomery (released – player request), Tevita Pangai Jr (retired), Luke Thompson (Wigan Warriors), Corey Waddell (Manly Sea Eagles)

Track Watch

Drew Hutchinson and Toby Sexton have been battling for the halfback position this off-season, both having solid stretches but nothing to solidify their start.

Ciraldo did start Hutchinson, which will most likely mean he starts in the halfback position over young gun Sexton.

Blake Taffe had an outstanding year in the NSW Cup for the Rabbitohs last season and has won the fullback position to start the season. Whether we see Stephen Crichton move to the fullback position later in the season is up in the air at the moment.

Jaeman Salmon has impressed at the lock position, and if he starts, will push Josh Curran to the bench, putting the former Warrior player to have minutes at lock or in the middle to help reduce the workload of Max King in the front row.

Any injuries to the backline shall see guys like Connor Tracey and Bronson Xerri first called up, with Xerri having solid outings in the trials. 

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What to Expect

The Bulldogs are expecting to perform much better this season, with optimism for a turnaround like no other, with the arrival of Stephen Crichton, who has become the club captain recently, as well as shown the standard for effort plays and consistent quality play in the NRL. 

Ciraldo has learned a lot on the job, with new insights and perspective of what it takes to be a consistent team that wins and plays quality rugby league on a week-to-week basis.

These new learnings could help create a spark for the Bulldogs that leads to some needed victories. 

With a lot of players with different position coverages, we could see some chaos designed simply from players adjusting to Ciraldo’s style of play and their roles change entirely. 

They will need a lot of class to be able to go in the direction they seek to be following through. 

It’s a big year for:

Matt Burton

The arrival of the 2024 recruits could help Matt Burton turn into the five-eighth which is much more realistic for him and the club, having fewer responsibilities in the playmaking department.

This would allow the franchise playmaker to do more ball running and create a dangerous left-edge attack with Villame Kikau, Stephen Crichton and Josh Addo-Carr next to him.

Burton also has experienced much more clarity in the off-season, looking to maximise at his strengths more than trying to have so many roles and skills that have harmed his game since joining the club in 2022.

Biggest unanswered question?

Will the Bulldogs make the finals this season?

The theory of years ending in 4 has led fans to think the Bulldogs will make the finals, pointing to NRL history where they have made a lot of grand final appearances.

It is a question that will be answered with absolute in September, however, if players are getting injured again, expect a year like 2023 to occur for the club again.

Coach Index

Cameron Ciraldo – Safe

Signed on a long-term deal, Ciraldo has quality players on his team and this pre-season has shown a lot of positive signs in the direction and culture of the club, where it was about connection in 2023, now its about excellence and doing what is needed to win and compete at a high level.

Safe and locked-in would be the best way to describe Ciraldo’s spot as the coach, with great recruitment and buy-in from the board at Canterbury, despite what happened in 2023, the Bulldogs don’t have to worry about changing their coach anytime soon.

Predicted Round 1 Lineup

  1. Blake Taffe 
  2. Josh Addo-Carr
  3. Stephen Crichton
  4. Jacob Kiraz
  5. Blake Wilson
  6. Matt Burton
  7. Drew Hutchinson 
  8. Max King
  9. Reed Mahoney
  10. Sam Hughes
  11. Villame Kikau
  12. Jacob Preston
  13. Jaeman Salmon
  14. Kurt Mann
  15. Harrison Edwards
  16. Josh Curran
  17. Poasa Faamausili

Ladder Prediction

Expect the Bulldogs to be anywhere from 9th to 13th, making progression compared to recent years and needing to address the middle forward depth they are lacking, as well as possibly looking for a long-term halfback next to Burton, whether they are already at the club or externally looking for a mature playmaker. 

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