The Canterbury Bulldogs have made a bigger recruitment push than any other club this off-season, but the argument could be made they needed it more than any other club as well.
After a season where the blue and white just won three games, heaping more misery on an already shocking run for some years, the Bulldogs have finally had enough, putting a broom through their squad for 2022.
They have signed plenty of big names, but just how quickly they gel is anyone’s guess, with Trent Barrett and his side desperately hoping to make a push for the finals on the back of it.
A tough draw won’t help the club either, and while the likes of Matt Burton, Matt Dufty and Tevita Pangai Junior give Canterbury fans plenty to be excited about, expectations must remain realistic.
Ins: Josh Addo-Carr (Melbourne Storm, 2025), Braidon Burns (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2023), Matt Burton (Penrith Panthers, 2024), Joshua Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2023), Matt Dufty (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2022), Reece Hoffman (Wests Tigers, 2022), Max King (Melbourne Storm, 2022), Brent Naden (Penrith Panthers, 2023), Tevita Pangai Junior (Brisbane Broncos, 2024), Paul Vaughan (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2022)
Outs: Renouf Atoni (Sydney Roosters), Dean Britt (released), Nick Cotric (Canberra Raiders), Christian Crichton (Penrith Panthers), Bradley Deitz (released), Adam Elliott (Canberra Raiders), Tyrone Harding (released), Watson Heleta (released), Will Hopoate (St Helens RLFC), Sione Katoa (released), Lachlan Lewis (released), Falakiko Manu (released), Nick Meaney (Melbourne Storm), Dylan Napa (Catalan Dragons), Ofahiki Ogden (Parramatta Eels), James Roumanos (released), Chris Smith (Penrith Panthers), Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (New Zealand Warriors)
Star player: Josh Addo-Carr
Josh Addo-Carr joins the club from the Storm and will immediately assume the mantle as one of the most experienced players at Belmore. He is a lock on the wing for New South Wales, and has played in finals series virtually every year of his career.
One of the best outside backs in the game, he will need to have major influence both on and off the field, with his set starts in particular with Matt Dufty at the back being critical.
Rising star: Aaron Schoupp
The Illawarra junior who moved to Canterbury has spent most of the off-season recovering from a shoulder injury, but he was one of the rare bright spots.
Playing 13 games, he crossed for three tries, but ran the ball strongly and defended well as he built into first-grade. He will have to fight for his spot in the centres coming into the new year, but recovering ahead of schedule won’t do him any harm, and nor will playing in what should be a much more competitive team.
Most under pressure: Matt Burton
Matt Burton comes into this season as the great white hope of Canterbury, but also under immense pressure.
The young half was forced to play in the centres at Penrith last year behind Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai. He did it with ease however, ending up in the Dally M team of the year. However, he now moves into the half and attempts to move a team from the bottom of the table into the finals, which is an enormous weight on the youngster’s shoulders.
Five matches to watch
Match 1: Round 3, vs Sea Eagles, at 4 Pines Park (Sun, Mar 27, 6:15pm)
Match 2: Round 5, vs Panthers, at CommBank Stadium (Sun, Apr 10, 6:15pm)
Match 3: Round 12, vs Dragons, at Belmore Sports Ground (Sun, May 29, 2:00pm)
Match 4: Round 14, vs Eels, at Accor Stadium (Mon, Jun 13, 4:00pm)
Match 5: Round 20, vs Knights, at McDonald Jones Stadium (Sun, Jul 31, 2:00pm)
The Bulldogs will undoubtedly improve in 2022, but by how much is what’s up for debate. Plenty have suggested they will play finals football, although such a suggestion seems a little extreme at this stage and would need to see the team gel from the very beginning.
Taking that they still have a few problems in the squad, which could be partially fixed by Reed Mahoney’s arrival in 2023, it’s tough to see them playing knockout football, but the Bulldogs should finish somewhere between 9th and 12th, escaping the bottom four for the first time in years.