The Bulldogs are plotting a rebirth. Picture by Brett Costello.
The Bulldogs are plotting a rebirth. Picture by Brett Costello.

Bulldogs’ target huge names in planned spending spree

THE Bulldogs are set to embark on a $7 million spending spree, with Latrell Mitchell and the Trbojevic brothers at the top of a shopping list that could see 20 players recruited to the club by the end of next year.

With 2021 shaping as the Year of the Dog, the Bulldogs have revealed only 10 players are guaranteed to survive beyond 2020, with arguably the club's most important recruitment drive to start on November 1.

In an exclusive Bulldogs tell-all, the Canterbury club have opened up about everything from recruitment to the future of coach Dean Pay.

Promising to return the famous club to an NRL powerhouse, Bulldogs chairwoman Lynne Anderson and CEO Andrew Hill have revealed the plan, 18 months in the making, that could deliver the Bulldogs their first premiership since 2004.

This is the Belmore Blueprint.

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Andrew Hill, Lynne Anderson, Stephen Litvensky and Craig Wilson are plotting Canterbury’s resurrection. Picture by Brett Costello.
Andrew Hill, Lynne Anderson, Stephen Litvensky and Craig Wilson are plotting Canterbury’s resurrection. Picture by Brett Costello.

THE CHALLENGE

Lynne Anderson was appointed Bulldogs chairwoman 18 months ago after leading the "Reform'' ticket'' to a 6-1 election battle win. She promised to return the club to the "Belmore way''.

Facing a $2.4-million unfair dismissal lawsuit after Des Hasler was sacked - and with a team that had finished season 2017 in 11th position - Anderson knew she was in for a challenge.

What the daughter of Bulldogs founding father Peter "Bullfrog'' Moore wasn't expecting was a salary-cap mess.

"Our immediate issue when we were elected was to understand and resolve some key challenges before we could move forward,'' Anderson said.

"The two key ones were the salary cap and the Des Hasler case. As we were planning the way forward for the Bulldogs, we made a deliberate commitment to not look back, but we can't deny that we are in this position because of what we found under the bonnet.

Anderson lead a reform ticket to an election victory last year. Picture by Brett Costello.
Anderson lead a reform ticket to an election victory last year. Picture by Brett Costello.

"It took us quite a few months to understand the depth of the situation.

"The salary cap has been the main issue and were in a position where we couldn't buy marquee players for a number of years and we were forced to return to being a true development club once again.''

A salary-cap rise miscalculation and up to 10 back-ended deals had left the club with almost nothing to spend.

"Essentially, the club in 2017 had been working on a salary cap being significantly higher than what it ended up being,'' Hill said.

"There were also a number of ratchet clauses and back-ended deals which compounded the issue. We only had the ability to recruit minimum wage players to fill our Top 30 playing group.''

THE REBUILD

The Bulldogs could have kept the ageing roster that had failed to make the top eight from 2017 to 2019.

"We could have sat there and done nothing for 2019 and 2020,'' Hill said. "But we chose to act.

"We were able to save money by making some tough decisions with the roster.''

A number of players, including Aaron Woods, Moses Mbye and Dave Klemmer, left to join other clubs in a move that freed up salary cap cash.

"We made some decisions to move certain players on and replace them with players that created more flexibility around our salary cap," Hill said.

Woods and Klemmer were both moved on.
Woods and Klemmer were both moved on.

"The choice was to do nothing or make a tough decision to fast-track the development of some players and be in a position to recruit, which has meant we have put ourselves in a far better situation coming into 2021.''

The Bulldogs were able to free up the salary cash to sign Nick Meaney, Jack Cogger, Christian Crichton, Corey Harawira-Naera, Dylan Napa and Dallin Watene Zelezniak for 2019 and Joe Stimson and Dean Britt for 2020.

"We are thrilled that these quality players can see what we are building and want to be a part of it,'' Hill said.

THE DEVELOPMENT

The salary-cap silver lining was that the club reverted to a development policy that, according to Anderson, will soon help the Bulldogs unearth the next generation of stars.

Brandon Wakeham, Morgan Harper and Jackson Topine have all been earmarked for the NRL.

"We have focused on our junior league,'' Anderson said.

"Our juniors know they will get a chance. We will continue to give them every opportunity and monitor progress from the board down.

"Our Junior League has always been crucial to the Bulldogs and we will protect that. This season Brandon Wakeham and Jayden Okunbor are leading examples of our Junior league commitment.''

Morgan Harper is one player the club has high hopes for. Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images.
Morgan Harper is one player the club has high hopes for. Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images.

Earlier this year Dave Hamilton was recruited from Canberra to spearhead the pathways program.

"We are focusing on players who are coming through our system and are working hard to re-establish ourselves as a respected development club,'' Hill said.

"This year we had a total of five players selected in the two Australian schoolboys teams. This is a long play. Our plan is to be a top-four team in every age group. We have enormous potential in our lower grades.

"We also have a relationship with the Mid North Coast and Greater Northern Region, where we are working with the NSW Country Rugby League to ensure that talent is well supported on and off the field,'' Hill said.

"We obviously want the very best to become future Bulldogs NRL players.''

THE COACH

Anderson and Hill want to see Dean Pay become the Bulldogs' long-term coach.

"It has been a tough year but Dean has done well,'' Anderson said. "We can see the spirit and tenacity he is building in our team, true Bulldogs values."

Hill outlined several changes to the football department that have been made to help Pay become a career coach.

"The coach is leading the way but we have invested in the entire football program,'' Hill said.

"There have been a number of appointments, including Steve Price (general manager of football) and Steve Litvensky (football manager), which underpin our football operations.

"In addition, Dave Hamilton and Craig Wilson have joined to focus on our pathways and junior development systems.''

Pay is in his second season as Bulldogs coach. Photo by Phil Walter/2019 Getty Images.
Pay is in his second season as Bulldogs coach. Photo by Phil Walter/2019 Getty Images.

THE FUTURE

With only 10 players on contract beyond next year, Hill would not rule out signing the biggest names in the game - including the soon-to-be free agent Latrell Mitchell and the Trbojevic brothers.

"We have been linked with a number of players,'' Hill said.

"Some of the players thrown up are the best players in the game and we will certainly be in a position to attract quality players. We will be in and around those discussions.

"That (2021) is the year where the vast majority of our players are off-contract.

"We have 20 spots up for grabs. We have big decisions to make about both retention and recruitment. We have the opportunity to shape our top 30.''

Anderson said the club would not be rushed into a recruitment decision, with a recruitment committee.

"We will be patient,'' Anderson said. "We are looking at where we are now and saying where do we want to be and where are the gaps and what do we need to win a comp.''

After promising there would be pain before gain, 2021 is shaping as the year of the Bulldog - should the club get it right.

"We have a plan for our future and know where we are heading,'' Hill said.

"We know where we need to be and what we need to do to get there. We will return the Bulldogs back to being a benchmark club.''

The Bulldogs are keen on landing the Trbojevic brothers. AAP Image / Julian Andrews.
The Bulldogs are keen on landing the Trbojevic brothers. AAP Image / Julian Andrews.

THE BOARD

Anderson will be forced to find two replacements for the board before next year's election after Price joined the football department and Steve Mortimer stood down.

"I have been very happy with the way the board has come together so quickly given it was virtually a brand-new team.'' Anderson said.

"We chose carefully based around what we felt was needed to get the club back on top, both on and off the field, and I have been thrilled with all involved since we came in.

"The seven that came in have done a tremendous job in fixing key challenges, rolling the sleeves up and getting on with planning and guidance for management.

"We have a great working relationship with Hilly and his senior leadership team and are genuinely excited about what lies ahead.

"It's barely been 18 months, but I think when we look back to what we wanted to do, together with what we found out we needed to do, I'm very happy with what's been achieved in such a short time.

"We know we will need patience as some changes will take time, but we firmly believe the Bulldogs DNA and historical success in being a development club will lead us back to the top.

"In terms of going forward, Steve Mortimer has made a decision to slow down but will still remain involved with the club - he's committed to being a part of the Bulldogs rebuild. Pricey will have to step down given his new appointment.

"We will sit down and find the right two people to stand on the ticket with us at the end of the year. We still have seven months to go and our priority is still getting the football business right.''