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A Dogs dozen: Contract calls prioritised as Gus Zooms inAuthor Dan Walsh NRL.com Reporter
Mon 19 Jul 2021, 10:57 AM
Phil Gould comes online as Bulldogs football manager as of Monday, with 13 off-contract players and a dozen open roster spots his first priority.
Gould's return to the club he coached to a title more than 30 years ago begins via Zoom due to Sydney's latest COVID-19 outbreak, and there is no clear answer on when he will actually meet Canterbury players face-to-face.
Critical calls on several of their futures will likely come before then.
As well as having nearly half of Trent Barrett's top-30 roster unsigned beyond this season (only South Sydney has more than the Bulldogs 13 off-contract top squad members), Canterbury will look to bring talks with Tevita Pangai jnr to a head in coming days.
Both the Bulldogs and Tigers have three-year offers in for the Broncos back-rower, with Canterbury's contingent on Pangai jnr starting next season, the Tigers on him arriving before August 1.
A call on his future – with Brisbane more than willing to negotiate an early exit – had been expected last week, and the Bulldogs want to move ahead one way or another given the uncertainty elsewhere in their roster.
Inquiries are also being made around sacked Dragon Paul Vaughan and when his eight-match suspension for breaching COVID-19 protocols would be served if he were signed at Belmore.
Meantime, the club still has 12 spots free in its 2022 top-30 squad, with Gould to lead the ongoing rebuild that sees Matt Burton, Josh Addo-Carr, Matt Dufty and Brent Naden arrive as part of an impressive backline overhaul.
It's time to make some things, some positive things, happen for us
Canterbury chairman John Khoury
"We've had a lot of discussions on our recruitment and retention, it's a moving wheel," Canterbury chairman John Khoury told NRL.com.
"I don't think there's many clubs that approach the number of players we've got off-contract, so that's one of the biggest priorities right away for Gus and our football department. It goes without saying, he's a game-changer in that scenario."
"It's one of his biggest attractions in bringing him in. The relationships he's got right across the NRL, from junior pathways, managers, other clubs and the NRL too, he's such an asset."
"Our offices are off-limits at the moment due to everything that's going on in our local government area at the moment, so the first meetings will be all via Zoom tomorrow. There's a lot to be done and Gus will hit the ground running. It's time to make some things, some positive things, happen for us."
Of the 13 off-contract Bulldogs, winger Jayden Okunbor is understood to be in the final stages of securing a two-year extension, while Will Hopoate is at a similar stage in negotiations with St Helens.
Dylan Napa's lucrative contract expires this season and is unlikely to be renewed while Lachlan Lewis is also off-contract and expected to exit.
Nick Meaney will join Melbourne while the likes of Dean Britt, Christian Crichton, Tyrone Harding, the Katoas (Sione and Tuipulotu), Ofahiki Ogden, James Roumanos, Chris Smith and Renouf Atoni make up the bulk of Canterbury's lower tier (roster spots 20-30) and remain unsigned.
The Bulldogs have come out the other side of a salary cap crippled by back-ended deals and freight being paid for players at rival clubs in recent years, with recent on-field efforts slowly starting to give hope to a beleaguered fan base.
Khoury is adamant Gould's appointment will only fast-track Canterbury's resurgence.
Revamping the club's junior pathways and driving bids for a Belmore precinct upgrade and potential funding for a Centre of Excellence also rank high on the agenda.
Ultimately, a return to the powerhouse status Canterbury enjoyed during Gould's first stint at the club – and maintained right through until recent years – is his new Bulldogs brief.
"I genuinely believe that Gus will expedite the plans we're already working on to make this club not just a premiership contender, but a benchmark, and being able to stay there at the top," Khoury said.
"Like the best clubs of today, like Melbourne, they're always up there because of what they do on and off the field. Our junior pathways is part of that, I've been involved in it a long time myself and that's what makes Gus's arrival so exciting in that area, it's the key for him. Gus has got the mandate to do what he needs to do. We've done our best to quieten down and stabilise all the off-field stuff. Our sponsorships are going strong again, [CEO] Aaron Warburton has a strong background in corporate partnerships and memberships and Gus for us is the perfect jigsaw puzzle. It's a big challenge but he's the one with the energy, talent, knowledge of the club, and our backing to do whatever he needs to."