Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, signings, Cameron Ciraldo, Stephen Crichton, Phil Gould, analysis, captaincy, results, finals appearances, news


The Bulldogs knew something had to change in 2021, recruiting one of rugby league’s sharpest minds in Phil Gould to oversee a revolutionary transformation.

But now, after 32 months in Belmore, the time has come for the struggling club to improve after one of the biggest overhaul’s the NRL has ever seen.

Now a single player is left from the club’s 2021 squad that Gould adopted, with Raymond Faitala-Mariner’s exit to the Dragons completing a top 30 rebuild.

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Included in that squad was players who have since gone on to find success in Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Jeremy Marshall-King, Nick Meaney and Adam Elliott.

Replacing that crop of players Gould recruited big-name stars including Viliame Kikau, Matt Burton, Josh Addo-Carr and Reed Mahoney.

Ahead of the 2024 season a new group arrived in Bronson Xerri, Connor Tracey, Blake Taaffe, Jaeman Salmon, Josh Curran, Drew Hutchison, Kurt Mann, Jake Turpin, Zane Tetevano, Poasa Faamausili and Daniel Suluka-Fifita.

Even the 2021 coach, Trent Barrett, was sacked and replaced by rugby league coaching’s golden boy in former Panthers assistant Cameron Ciraldo.

Now the Bulldogs, with their talented rookie coach at the helm, are set for a season that could make or break the trajectory of the club.

Here, and rugby league legend break down the Bulldogs’ big moves that could force a seismic shift at Belmore.

Phil Gould, Cameron Ciraldo and Stephen Crichton will all be behind the club's success this year.
Phil Gould, Cameron Ciraldo and Stephen Crichton will all be behind the club’s success this year.Source: FOX SPORTS


To start the 2021 season, the Bulldogs spine consisted of Corey Allan, Jake Averillo, Kyle Flanagan and Sione Katoa.

Averillo was a fan favourite of the club’s faithful, and many were disappointed to see him depart at the end of the 2023 season for the Dolphins.

Meanwhile, Allan and Katoa both played under 30 games for the Bulldogs, while Flanagan tallied 50 before he was deemed surplus to requirements by Phil Gould.

Heading into the 2024 season, Ciraldo has a very different spine at his disposal and one that arguably knows what it takes to win.

Blake Taaffe, the least experienced of the four players, featured in the 2021 grand final against the Panthers and more than held his own with only a handful of games to his name.

Matt Burton has won a premiership in the centres during his stint at Penrith, while Drew Hutchison was apart of the squad during the Roosters’ win in 2019.

Trent Robinson highly rated Hutchison for his versatility, giving him 71 games between 2019 and 2023 before his eventual departure.

Meanwhile, Reed Mahoney joined fresh off a season with the Eels in which they were one game away from lifting the trophy.

There’s clear improvement in key decision-making positions at the Bulldogs and Cronk believes it was needed, having not featured in the finals since 2016.

“Results will determine whether it’s the right thing or not but something had to change. How long has it since the Bulldogs have played finals?” Cronk said.

“Well there had to be a rebuild. Did it have to be aggressive? Did it have to be a bit more passive? Well that’s totally up to Phil Gould and the decision makers.

“But ultimately results will determine where it’s the right approach or not and no one can answer that until they start climbing up the ladder.”

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Ciraldo enjoyed a bapstim of fire in his first season as a head coach.

Reports of unrest within the playing squad emerged and his gruelling training methods were also called into question after an unnamed player walked out of a 12-man wrestling session.

Canterbury-Bankstown finished their last campaign in 15th place and were exposed countless times in defence, conceding the most points of any NRL side.

Ciraldo knows how to win and Cronk believes it all comes down to defence.

“Look you can’t have much of a better apprenticeship or learning or pathway to becoming a head coach than Ciraldo,” Cronk said.

“He had the hands on the steering wheel when it came to the defence at Penrith so for me if you’re going to win a competition you’re going to be one of the best defensive teams.

“He was exposed to Ivan’s methods in terms of galvanising a group and things like that so he’s learned all those things too. I think he probably had some challenges, but he thought it might have been a little bit more smooth sailing in year one.

“For example, trying to get his message or system across defensively onto that playing group. It’s proven it’s the right system but the players failed to deliver it consistently enough last year.

“So did they have to get other players in who are capable of handling the side and understanding that defensive structure but maybe that’s why they went for the 10 new players this year.”

“So look, you can talk about the Bulldogs in all a number of different ways, but the number one thing they must do is they must improve their defence,”


The Bulldogs recruited 10 players ahead of the 2024 season.

But no signing was bigger for Ciraldo than Stephen Crichton, because he saw a long-term leader in the 23-year-old.

In his first season as a Bulldog, Crichton was handed the captaincy, replacing Reed Mahoney as the club’s figurehead.

Crichton has played in four grand finals, has three premierships under his belt and has already played exactly 100 NRL games to go with six for NSW and six for Samoa.

It’s a staggering resume for some of his age and in terms of accolades, it’s one that already eclipses many NRL greats.

For Cronk, Crichton is a key signing for Ciraldo to become an “extension” of the rookie coach whilst on the field.

“Well, first and foremost, the most important person in any football club in my opinion is the coach. The head coach is the figurehead,” Cronk said.

“They’re the ones that set the tone of all the systems in place. And then your leadership group or your best players are an extension of your coach.

“They’re the ones that will basically influence the players on the field, at training, in the game when coach is up in the box.

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“So I think the Stephen Crichton one, making him captain I think was super interesting to me because I agree with it.

“He’s a guy that’s relatively young in his own career, come off three straight grand finals. He’s had a front seat to what Ivan Cleary and Nathan Cleary have put together at Penrith.

“At different stages I think Matt Burton and Reed Mahoney moved in and out of being a good leader and probably not doing the things that are needed all the time to turn that ship around at the Bulldogs.”

One moment also solidified for Cronk that Crichton was the perfect fit to lead the Bulldogs forward.

After a short stint on the field in his club debut against the Sharks in the pre-season challenge, Crichton didn’t leave for the showers to get comfortable.

Instead he stayed on the sidelines in his full kit, barracking for his new teammates and showing he’s all in.


Gould has done everything he can up until this point to enact change.

A new squad, a new coach, a new captain and a new chairman after Adam Driussi replaced John Khoury in February.

But Cronk believes it’s all about the players being able to deliver the systems they’ve been taught by Ciraldo.

If they can do that, there’s no reason why they can’t clinch an unlikely finals position.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve recruited the top 10 players in the game or you’ve got a bunch of players that are in around the 50 mark,” Cronk said.

“The ability for the coach to get those players to train it, believe it and improve is what it’s all about.

“So can the dogs move up the ladder? Of course they can.

“So I think they’ve got enough of the ingredients to say that this year is going to be an improvement.

“But it’s up to those leaders to take that improvement to the point that it makes them play finals for the first time in a long time.”


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