2024 Preview: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

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Kelly Hollis peers into what the future could hold for the blue-and-whites of Canterbury in 2024.

Are the Dog Days over? Gould and Ciraldo orchestrate a significant overhaul in a strategic bid to reshape and uplift the squad for a more promising future.

The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs entered the 2023 NRL season with renewed optimism and high expectations after securing the services of highly sought-after rookie coach Cameron Ciraldo. The off-season signings of Reed Mahoney and Viliame Kikau fueled the excitement, and early victories against formidable opponents like the Melbourne Storm and North Queensland Cowboys had Bulldogs fans hopeful that a new era was dawning.

However, as the season unfolded, it became apparent that the team faced significant challenges. Despite the promise of a five-year plan to rebuild, the Bulldogs struggled to find consistency, and their depth at Belmore was severely tested throughout the campaign. Ciraldo, who had previously served as the attack coach for the Panthers, found it challenging to replicate the success he had experienced with the reigning premiers, leading to the Bulldogs having the second-worst attack in the competition.

The disappointing outcome saw the Bulldogs finish 15th on the ladder, three places lower than the previous season, with the worst defence in the premiership. Amidst the struggles, the only consistent performers were Jacob Preston and Jake Averillo, the having signed with the Dolphins for the coming season.

Looking ahead to 2024, Canterbury are undergoing a significant transformation. Ciraldo is set to introduce as many as six new recruits to the 17-man squad, aiming to reshape the team and improve their performance. The departure of 39 players since the arrival of general manager Phil Gould in 2021 indicates a strategic overhaul, and the acquisition of marquee signings such as Stephen Crichton, Josh Curran, Kurt Mann, and Drew Hutchison brings experience and a winning culture to the club.

The Bulldogs will be hoping that these new additions, combined with the dynamic presence of former Shark Connor Tracey, will contribute to a more competitive and successful 2024 season. The arrival of big-name players like Stephen Crichton is seen as a catalyst for uplifting the entire squad, bringing hope that the Bulldogs can rise from the challenges of the 2023 season and strive for a more promising future.

Why they'll win it

The Bulldogs are poised for a potential turnaround, and several factors contribute to their prospects of potential success. The arrival of Stephen Crichton from the Panthers and the presence of Matt Burton form a promising foundation for the team's spine, with Crichton likely to play a crucial role at fullback and Burton at five-eighth.

In his second year of the rebuilding process, Ciraldo has gained valuable insights from the challenges of his debut season. He has made strategic decisions on player retention, bringing in key additions such as Crichton, Curran, Mann, Hutchison, as well as Jaeman Salmon and Blake Taaffe, who are expected to bring invaluable contributions.

With the coaching staff's message starting to resonate and click in the second year under Ciraldo, there is optimism that the Bulldogs can translate these changes into a more competitive and successful campaign in 2024.

Why they won't

One of the most perplexing aspects of the Bulldogs off-season is the sheer volume of players they've signed, many of whom appear to have been recruited for backup roles, particularly as the number 14. A majority of these players held fringe roles at their previous clubs, raising questions about the team's overall strategy.

Despite their efforts to strengthen the squad, the Bulldogs still seem to lack a standout half with the class needed to elevate them to the next level.

While Toby Sexton shows promise, his early career performances may not position him as the transformative playmaker the Bulldogs require. Likewise, Matt Burton's struggles to find consistency in the halves pose a significant concern. Although Burton has a powerful running game and a strong kicking ability, he needs to improve his playmaking, especially in creating try-scoring opportunities for his teammates.

If the Bulldogs experience a slow start and their spine fails to click, Ciraldo might need to shuffle positions, possibly moving Burton back to the centres and experimenting with Hutchison in the halves. 

Player movement

2024 GainsBronson Xerri (unattached)
Stephen Crichton, Jaeman Salmon (Penrith)
Blake Taaffe (South Sydney)
Josh Curran (Warriors)
Kurt Mann (Newcastle)
Jake Turpin, Drew Hutchison (Sydney)
Poasa Faamausili (Dolphins)
Connor Tracey (Cronulla)
Contracted for 2024Bailey Biondi-Odo, Blake Taaffe, Bronson Xerri, Chris Patolo, Connor Tracey, Drew Hutchison, Hayze Perham, Jackson Topine, Jacob Kiraz, Jacob Preston, Jaeman Salmon, Jake Turpin, Jeral Skelton, Jordan Samrani, Josh Addo-Carr, Josh Curran, Karl Oloapu, Kitione Kautoga, Kurt Mann, Liam Knight, Matt Burton, Max King, Reed Mahoney, Ryan Sutton, Sam Hughes, Stephen Crichton, Toby Sexton, Viliame Kikau, Zac Montgomery
2024 LossesJake Averillo (Dolphins)
Corey Waddell (Manly)
Kyle Flanagan, Raymond Faitala-Mariner (St George Illawarra)
Paul Alamoti (Penrith)
Tevita Pangai Junior (retirement)
Luke Thompson (Wigan)
Jayden Okunbor (Hull FC)
Braidon Burns, Brandon Clarke, Declan Casey (unsigned)
DevelopmentBailey Hayward, Joseph O'Neill, Joash Papalii, Kurtis Morrin, Poasa Faamausili

Key player

The standout player for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in the 2023 NRL season undoubtedly emerged in dynamic backrower Jacob Preston. His remarkable performances led to him being in contention for the Dally M Rookie of the Year award a hip-drop suspension cruelled his opportunity. Preston's debut in the opening round marked the beginning of an impressive campaign, where he played 20 games in the blue and white jersey, demonstrating both skill and consistency.

Despite that late-season suspension that kept him out of a few matches, Preston left a memorable mark on the Bulldogs' campaign. Notably, in Round 2 against the Storm, he not only scored his first NRL try but also exhibited his versatility by running for 116 meters and contributing 39 tackles. His well-rounded abilities were further highlighted as he averaged an impressive 38 tackles per game with a remarkable 91% efficiency.

Already regarded as a future captain of the club, Jacob Preston's season added a positive narrative to an otherwise challenging campaign for the Bulldogs in 2023 and provides hope for the 2024 season.


All eyes are on 22-year-old forward Samuel Hughes as the potential breakthrough player for the Bulldogs in the 2024 NRL season, a sentiment echoed by Phil Gould in a recent Tweet to a fan. Hughes made his first-grade debut coming off the bench in Round 6 against the Rabbitohs and earned a start at lock in Round 12, albeit with limited playing time.

Despite this, Hughes showcased his talent and adaptability, leaving a positive impression not only in the NRL but also in the NSW Cup. Standing at 193 cm and weighing 111 kg, Hughes addresses the Bulldogs' needs in the prop and middle third of the field, areas where the team fell short in the off-season signings. His size and potential to fulfil a crucial role make him a player to watch in 2024. 

Best 17

1. Stephen Crichton
2. Josh Addo-Carr
3. Bronson Xerri
4. Connor Tracey
5. Jacob Kiraz

6. Toby Sexton
7. Matt Burton

8. Max King
9. Reed Mahoney
10. Liam Knight
11. Jacob Preston
12. Viliame Kikau
13. Josh Curran

Interchange: 14. Jaeman Salmon, 15. Kurt Mann, 16. Samuel Hughes, 17. Harrison Edwards

2024 fixture list

All times Sydney local time (AEDT to Apr 6, AEST thereafter)

PRE 1Thu 7:00pmFeb 15thHMelbourneBelmore
PRE 2Fri 8:00pmFeb 23rdACronullaBelmore
R1Sat 5:30pmMar 9thAParramattaCommBank
R2Fri 6:00pmMar 15thACronullaPointsbet
R3Sat 3:00pmMar 23rdHGold CoastBelmore
R4Fri 4:05pmMar 29thASouthsAccor
R5Fri 6:00pmApr 5thHSydneyAccor
R6Fri 6:00pmApr 12thAMelbourneAAMI
R7Sun 2:00pmApr 21stHNewcastleAccor
R8Apr 25-28BYE
R9Sat 3:00pmMay 4thHWests TigersAccor
R10Fri 6:00pmMay 10thAPenrithBlueBet
R11Fri 6:00pmMay 17thACanberraSuncorp
R12Thu 7:50pmMay 23rdHSt Geo IllaAccor
R13Fri 8:00pmMay 31stANewcastleMcD. Jones
R14Mon 4:00pmJun 10thHParramattaAccor
R15Jun 13-16BYE
R16Sat 5:30pmJun 22ndASydneyIndustree
R17Fri 8:00pmJun 28thHCronullaAccor
R18Sat 3:00pmJul 6thHWarriorsAccor
R19Jul 11-14BYE
R20Sun 6:15pmJul 21stANorth QLDQLD C. Bank
R21Sat 3:00pmJul 27thABrisbaneSuncorp
R22Sun 4:05pmAug 4thHCanberraBelmore
R23Sat 7:35pmAug 10thASt Geo IllaNetstrata
R24Sat 3:00pmAug 17thHDolphinsSalter
R25Fri 8:00pmAug 23rdAWarriorsGo Media
R26Fri 6:00pmAug 30thHManlyAccor
R27Sat 5:30pmSep 7thHNorth QLDAccor