A Shallow Dive into the 2022 Canterbury Bulldogs

Your men’s 2022 Canterbury Bulldogs finished in twelfth place with a 7-12 record and -192 points difference.

The Bulldogs’ 16.0 points scored per game was the third worst in the NRL, which is somehow an improvement on four of the last five years of Bulldogs football. Their defence leaked 24.0 points per game and was on par with the Sea Eagles and Dragons, and well clear of the bottom four teams. Canterbury’s Pythagorean expectation was good for 7.6 wins, so they were right on the money.

There is no Bulldogs NRLW team nor any known plans for one in the near future.

The Victory Lap

From the pre-season deep dive:

Only three wins for Trent Barrett in his first season back at the helm was not an auspicious start… There are plenty of people who want the Bulldogs to be good and not enough people really assessing whether Barrett is the man to make it happen. To say I have doubts would be an understatement…

The rest of the squad is the same one that won three games last season, which will represent at least half of the thirteen starting positions. While the incoming talent upgrades their prospects significantly – a finals spot wouldn’t be out of the question according to the Taylors but is far from reality according to the SCWP – there’s a fairly substantial gap to be bridged just to get from last place to the tail end of the excrementitious pile that occupied the bottom half of the NRL ladder in 2021. Eyes must be already turned to 2023 when further reinforcements turn the Bulldogs back into a finals contender and, if nothing else, a terrible season here will give the board mandate to fire Barrett and find a real coach.

That seems about right, although I didn’t really commit to where I thought they’d end up. Not right at the bottom was in the end correct but they were never in the hunt for finals either. A Disappointment Line of 7.1 wins was bang on.

What happened

This is the third Shallow Dive of 2022 and the third where the coach has been sacked. Scratch that, apparently Barrett quit on May 16, much earlier than the other two, but it was also clear much earlier – in pre-season even – that he was a dead man walking.

Barrett’s “quitting” came after Magic Round, the nadir of the Bulldogs’ season after an embarrassing 16-6 loss to the equally hapless Knights in Brisbane. They were 2-8 with a -125 points difference. Mick Potter took over for the remainder of the season, and unlike Stacy Jones and Brett Kimmorley, turned the ship around a little, finding five more wins and adding only nine more losses with a deficit of 67 points. The Dogs would have undoubtedly still been on the outside looking in for finals places, but with a better start to the season under a compentent coach, they would’ve been in the Manly/St George Illawarra mix, instead of in a mid-season scrap for the spoon.

One of the Bulldogs’ biggest problems under Barrett was their lack of power in the pack. The off-season signing spree included plenty of talented backs but did not bolster the forwards in a meaningful way, other than to bring in Paul Vaughan, who is now on his way to join Matt Dufty and Josh McGuire at just-avoided-relegation Warrington.

It shows.

The Bulldogs created the third least production of any club in the NRL. Obviously, Taylors aren’t the be-all end-all of statistical measures but it does love metre-eaters and Canterbury is definitely shy of those.

Outside of their props, the Bulldogs had big holes were their back row and bench should have been. If the pack is generating as much as the pea hearted Knights, then you have an issue.

While anything under .100 is considered below average, the black dots being higher than the green ones indicates how much of a handbrake Barrett really was. So it could have been worse and now at least the Bulldogs have a new coach.

There’s always next year

Cameron Ciraldo has finally been convinced to leave the shadows of Penrith and come to the bright lights of Belmore. Phil Gould has played a worldie to pick up the hottest coach who didn’t end up with the Panthers job in 2019, even though every man and his dog had endorsed him to do so. Or at least that’s what Phil Gould said on his podcast in 2018, weeks before the club announced Ivan Cleary’s return.

Let’s see how that played out for Gus:

Ah, well, maybe next time. Given that Gould fired Cleary the first time around and then the Panthers fired Gould the second time around and kept Cleary, and naively taking Gus at his word, it seems his preference for Ciraldo may come from a genuine belief in him. He also apparently believed in another former Panthers assistant so much that he warned him to not take the job he would eventually come to supervise, so take that with a pinch of salt.

If you take the Dogs’ Pythagorean expectation under Potter, 0.401 or 9.6 wins, as the benchmark of what an average coach can achieve with this squad, Ciraldo will need to be substantially better than average if the Dogs are to be thinking of continuing their progression up the ladder.

As well as the aforementioned Super League wash outs, the Dogs have lost Naden to the Tigers, Hetherington to the Knights and Marshall-King, who has had by far his best year, to the Dolphins. In comes Viliame Kikau and Reed Mahoney, which are two badly needed brand name upgrades at their respective positions. Matt Burton can still boot the ball and Josh Addo-Carr is the world’s fastest man. Corey Allan and Braidon Burns both had productive years.

The club’s in much better shape than it’s been for a while, and some (most?) of the credit can go to Phil Gould for that. This is the least damning Bulldogs Shallow Dive I’ve written (2020’s edition got the board cleared out). Finals aren’t out of reach if Mahoney and Kikau can add serious value and Ciraldo gets up to speed quickly and get the forwards rolling.