Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 2024 season preview

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 2024 season preview

2023 recap

Much was expected of the Bulldogs in 2023, given some of the club’s high-profile signings like Viliame Kikau and Reed Mahoney, but despite three wins in the opening five rounds, the Dogs never really got going. A long-term injury to Kikau early in the year didn’t help, but that’s no excuse for their woeful defensive record. The Bulldogs had the worst points difference of any NRL club last year and conceded more than 30 points on 16 occasions. Two wins from their final eight games ensured they never looked like threatening the top eight as they finished third from bottom.

2023 position: 15th

Key signings

Stephen Crichton (Penrith Panthers), Josh Curran (New Zealand Warriors), Poasa Faamausili (The Dolphins), Drew Hutchison (Sydney Roosters), Kurt Mann (Newcastle Knights), Jaeman Salmon (Penrith Panthers), Blake Taaffe (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Connor Tracey (Cronulla Sharks), Jake Turpin (Sydney Roosters), Bronson Xerri

Key departures

Paul Alamoti (Penrith Panthers), Jake Averillo (Dolphins), Fa’amanu Brown (Hull FC), Brandon Clarke (released), Andrew Davey (retired), Raymond Faitala-Mariner (St George Illawarra Dragons), Kyle Flanagan (St George Illawarra Dragons), Michael Gabrael (Cronulla Sharks), Jayden Okunbor (Hull FC), Franklin Pele (Hull FC), Josh Reynolds (retired), Luke Thompson (Wigan Warriors), Corey Waddell (Manly Sea Eagles)

Players to watch

Stephen Crichton is the kind of signing that will help transform the Bulldogs. In his four full seasons of first grade, he’s played in four Grand Finals – winning three of them – and he’s played in a World Cup Final, too. Not bad for a 23-year-old. He’s been a star in the centres at previous club, Penrith, but it’s likely he’ll get first crack at the number 1 jersey for the Dogs, and I expect him to be a huge success.

Bronson Xerri will return to NRL action after a four-year drugs ban, and he’ll be champing at the bit to restart his career. The centre looked like a future superstar at the Sharks before his career came to a grinding halt, but at just 23, he’s still got plenty of time on his side to get back to the level he was playing at before his ban.

Young gun

2024 may come a bit too soon for Mitchell Woods, but I’m going to put him in there anyway as injuries, Origin call-ups and loss of form could push him into contention. The 17-year-old halfback has been a star at youth level in rugby union, rugby league and AFL, but he’s now committed himself fully to the Bulldogs. In a recent radio interview, the club’s boss, Phil Gould, even described him as ‘one of the most extraordinary young talents you can ever imagine’. Pretty high praise from someone who’s been around the game as long as he has, and if he’s that good, an opportunity may come sooner rather than later.

Our prediction – 9th

I’m expecting a much-improved Bulldogs side in 2024. Signings like Stephen Crichton may grab the headlines, but it’s the fringe players they’ve brought in which convince me they’ll be better this year. Players like Blake Taafe, Jaeman Salmon and Drew Hutchison might not be superstars, but they’re established NRL players, who will add plenty of depth and experience to the squad. I can see the Dogs pushing for a finals place this year, but I still think they’ll come up just short.

Darren Notley

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