Phil Gould has urged Canterbury fans to be patient as he assured them the Bulldogs will become an NRL powerhouse once again and signaled a massive roster overhaul was under way ahead of the 2024 season.
The proud Belmore club is at rock bottom, with Trent Barrett leaving his post as coach this week as the team’s dire on-field form drags into another season.
The Dogs haven’t featured in NRL finals since 2016, and have slide backwards on the ladder every season since. They are a shadow of the side that played grand finals in 2012 and 2014.
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Des Hasler steered the club to those heights but then the team began to deteriorate under his watch, before he left in 2017.
He was replaced by Dean Pay, who was replaced by Barrett, and now the Belmore board is looking for a fourth coach in five years.
“The Bulldogs are a big club. They’ve got a massive fanbase and the club has been in the doldrums for years,” the club’s general manager of football Gould told Wide World of Sports’ Six Tackles with Gus podcast.
“Losing is not out of the ordinary for them this year, it’s got worse over a period of time. They only won three games in 2020, they only won three games in 2021.”
Gould arrived at Belmore last year with a job to do – resurrect the club and make the NRL team a premiership contender once more.
Fans are frustrated as the team again sits on the bottom of the competition ladder – last week’s loss to Newcastle the final nail in Barrett’s coaching coffin.
Gould was asked what is required to turn their fortunes around.
“Time, and hard work, and development,” he said.
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“I keep saying this is a trip down the mines, this is a difficult period in the club’s history.
“I know it’s been frustrating, but you can’t just wave a magic wand and fix that. It’s taken a long time to get into this state, you don’t just suddenly turn it around in a day.
“To fix it properly for the future, what most clubs do in these situations, and the Bulldogs have done, is to recruit their way out of trouble… and sometimes desperation recruitment just to win some games and get the media off their back .
“That’s not the way to fix the club, you’ve got to take a long-term view of it. It’s kind of saying ‘all right, I know you’ve had a long period of losing, but there’s going to be more before we get better’.
“It’s the truth. Whether people are prepared to accept that or not, it’s the truth.
“My aim is that the Bulldogs are never in this position again. This club should never be in that position.
“That’s my goal, that when my time is up at the Bulldogs, they’ll never again have to put up with this. They will have a recruitment and development program that will sustain them long into the future.”
The Bulldogs’ recruitment has been blasted in the days since the loss to Newcastle.
For too long, Canterbury has been accused of spending too much money on second-rate players, or ones that don’t impact the result of games.
Gould has personally overseen the recruitment of Viliame Kikau, Reed Mahoney, and Ryan Sutton, who join the club next season.
He says while the Bulldogs’ salary cap isn’t perfect right now, things are looking rosy for season 2024.
“The thing I can tell you about the salary cap for 2024, which is now only 18 months away, we only have five or six players on contract,” he said.
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“So our salary cap is actually in really good shape. Not right at the moment, but in 18 months’ time we have the opportunity to totally reshape the look of the Bulldogs, the culture of the Bulldogs.”
Aside from going to market and buying stars, Gould is busy establishing programs at Belmore that will keep the team healthy for years to come.
“What we’re looking at is… setting up the framework for an academy system that will provide a steady stream of young talent coming into the senior ranks there for a long period of time,” Gould said.
“That hasn’t been in place, that’s been neglected for a long period of time, therefore we have some players showing NRL potential in the junior ranks, but nowhere near enough.
“I have to go out – and I’ve been active – interviewing parents and players. I was up there in Brisbane over the weekend… and interviewed 15 families with young boys aged between 18 and 21 that I think have got potential to be in the NRL roster by 2024.
“I want an academy that starts at 14, 15, 16 years of age for local talent and other talent that we recruit to be developed as Bulldogs from those teenage years.
“We also have plenty of money, and plenty of positions to fill for 2024. So we’ve only got five or six on contract, and we’ve got plenty of money.
“From 2024 on I think is where we really get some momentum and get started. I think we’re in great shape if people are patient.”
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