Bulldogs officials hope Trent Barrett can turn around the worst attack in NRL history and help the club attract and retain big-name stars.
Barrett is Canterbury's preferred choice to take over after the departure of Dean Pay but it is unclear whether he will leave his role as an assistant coach with the high-flying Panthers before the end of the season, as the Bulldogs would like.
With Barrett responsible for Penrith's attack this year, the Panthers have scored 218 points in nine games – the second most behind Sydney Roosters (268) and a significant improvement on last season (413) when only North Queensland (378), Gold Coast (370) and Canterbury (326) scored less.
In contrast, the Bulldogs have gone from bad to worse this season and are on track to score fewer points than any other team since the formation of the NRL in 1998 after managing just 94 points in nine rounds.
The worst attacking team in NRL history was the Western Suburbs Magpies, who scored 285 points in 1999 at an average of 12.04 points in each of their 24 matches.
The Gold Coast Chargers managed just 289 points in 1998, while the 2016 Parramatta Eels (298) are the only other team to score less than 300 points in a season during the NRL era.
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However, Canterbury are averaging just 10.44 points per match and unless their attack improves in the remaining 11 rounds the Bulldogs are set to finish the season with just 208 points.
Even if the length of the season hadn't been reduced and the Bulldogs played 24 matches as usual, they would still be on target to score just 250 points – 35 less than the Tommy Raudonikis-coached Wests Magpies team of 1999.
Given Canterbury's poor attacking record last year and so far this season, in which they have enjoyed just one win, the decision to part company with Pay seemed inevitable but Bulldogs CEO Andrew Hill and the board wanted to give him every opportunity to earn a contract extension.
Had the Bulldogs followed up their 22-2 defeat of St George Illawarra in round 4 with further wins against the likes of Cronulla, Wests Tigers, South Sydney and Brisbane, the decision of the Canterbury board may have been different.
After being advised in the wake of last Saturday night's 26-8 loss to the Broncos that he could not be guaranteed a fourth season as coach of the club he helped to the 1995 premiership as a player, Pay told Hill and Bulldogs chair Lynne Anderson that he didn't feel he could continue.
It was mutually agreed on Monday that he would finish immediately and Hill called Canterbury players to a meeting on Tuesday morning to inform them that Pay was no longer their coach and assistant Steve Georgallis would take over on an interim basis.
Pay then spoke to the players before leaving Belmore and Georgallis took his first training session in charge of the Bulldogs, although he has previously been interim coach at Penrith in 2011 and last year guided Greece to the final 16 nations contesting the 2021 World Cup in England.
'The future is really bright'
How long Georgallis will have the coaching clipboard remains to be seen, with the Bulldogs yet to reach a deal with Barrett.
Hill said the Bulldogs were seeking a coach who could ensure the players continue to improve and play to their potential, while being able to attract big-name stars to the club.
"I think we saw last year for a 10-week period at the back end of the season that given the right environment the boys did play to their potential and we did have some victories over quality teams," Hill said.
"We are certainly looking at improving that, and of course our attack needs to improve, but the future is really bright at the club."
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England Test prop Luke Thompson made his debut for the club last week and the Bulldogs are in negotiations with Canberra and NSW back Nick Cotric, while halfback Brandon Wakeham and centre Jake Averillo played in the club's 2018 premiership-winning SG Ball team.
"We have got a clear plan around bringing some of these boys through the system and adding quality players when we can," Hill said.
"We have been able to do that with Luke Thompson, and we are looking for a coach who attracts people and takes us to the next level.
"It takes time and if you continue to have two or three players come through your system each year it is a great advantage. If you look at Penrith as an example, they just produce one or two every year."
The case for Barrett
Many of those who have played under Barrett at Manly or now at Penrith sing his praises, and he is regarded as a coach who can communicate with young players and build team comraderie.
While his three-year tenure at the Sea Eagles ended badly in 2018, Barrett took the team to sixth place the previous season – during which they were the fourth-best attacking team in the NRL.
He helped Daly Cherry-Evans regain his Australian and Queensland jerseys, and the Manly captain and Test stars Tom and Jake Trbojevic are among Sea Eagles players who remain close to their former mentor.
"He is obviously a very good attacking mind," Manly five-eighth Lachlan Croker said. "As you can see Penrith are playing extremely good football now … and you can see his influence. It has got his handprints all over it that they are playing a really good attacking style of football."
Penrith captain James Tamou and rookie forward Billy Burns also endorsed Barrett for the Bulldogs job.
"I think he is a good coach," Tamou said. "He has been a head coach at Manly and he has done his trade being an understudy for a while so I'm sure one day Baz will want to put on the head coach hat and do his thing again."
Burns said: "He is a great coach. We have got massive raps on Baz, everyone here does. He has got so much respect around the club. It would be quite a loss."
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Foran's praise for Pay
Pay was also popular with Bulldogs players but communication was considered an area he could improve.
While Pay inherited salary cap problems when he took over from Des Hasler, Canterbury lost representative stars David Klemmer, Aaron Woods, Moses Mbye and the Morris twins, Brett and Josh, during his tenure.
However, it was widely regarded he had one of the worst rosters in the NRL and star playmaker Kieran Foran has spent much of the past two years on the sidelines with injuries.
With speculation over Pay's future and 10 players off contract at the end of the season, the pressure had been mounting and NRL.com has been told there was a sense of relief that a decision had finally been made.
Foran said Pay's sudden departure had taken the players by surprise.
"There was no indication, I know from our point of view we were just getting on with the job at hand and there was never any feeling that such events were going to take place," Foran said.
"It caught us by surprise this morning but the club's made that decision and we have got to get on with it.
Foran backs Georgallis
"I think one of his greatest assets is the way he has stuck by all the boys through thick and thin.
"There has been a lot of stuff to deal with over the few years that he has been here and he has never wavered in his support for the club and for all the players involved.
"I know that from a player's point of view we can't thank him enough for the support he has shown us over the years."