BullDogs Wont Let Utai Off Leash

The Bulldogs are keen to avoid a repeat of the drawn out contract wrangle involving Kiwis centre Nigel Vagana by re-signing New Zealand wing Matt Utai before the start of the next National Rugby League season.

Utai, dropped from the Kiwis squad for October's trans-Tasman test win in Auckland because of a poor attitude, is one of three high-profile players the Bulldogs want to lock in long term.

Club management have also held initial talks with prop Mark O'Meley and utility Johnathan Thurston.

Utai rocketed to stardom in the 2002 season after starting the season in reserve grade and will be seeking a much-improved deal after establishing himself as one the Bulldogs' most effective scoring weapons.

Bulldogs chairman George Peponis said he wanted to have Utai, O'Meley and Thurston signed up before the start of the season after the Vagana saga proved an upheaval to the club for several months.

The Bulldogs' highest try-scorer this year with 22 eventually failed to agree to new terms and signed with Cronulla.

"It was very distracting with Nigel this year, so we don't want to go through that again," Peponis told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

"We'd like to have it all finished before the season but that may not happen with all three," he said.