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2022 vision: Why Burton signing fits Dogs' long-term plan

Canterbury CEO Andrew Hill is making no promises about results next season as the Bulldogs continue to focus on building a team that can consistently claim to be premiership contenders.

In the last 48 hours, the Bulldogs have beaten off rival clubs for the signature Penrith young gun Matt Burton and hosted Storm star Josh Addo-Carr at Belmore but both moves are aimed at shoring up Trent Barrett's roster in 2022.

Barrett would like to have Burton on board next season but the Bulldogs have been up front with the Panthers by telling the minor premiers that their interest was for 2022 – as it is with Addo-Carr, who recently advised Wests Tigers he would serve the remaining year of his contract with Melbourne.

Since Barrett's appointment for next season, Canterbury have signed Sydney Roosters halfback Kyle Flanagan, Canberra winger Nick Cotric, Manly second-rower Corey Waddell, Panthers prop Jack Hetherington and now Burton.

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Captain Josh Jackson, England prop Luke Thompson, Kiwis international Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, rookie playmakers Brandon Wakeham and Josh Averillo, and forwards Adam Elliott, Raymond Fatala-Mariner and Joe Stimson are the only other players signed beyond next season.

While it has been a tough time since they last reached the playoffs in 2016, every move the Bulldogs have made under Hill has been in keeping with a strategy to restore Canterbury's standing as one of the NRL's leading clubs.

The Bulldogs in pre-season training.
The Bulldogs in pre-season training. ©

As a result, the likes of Dylan Napa, Will Hopoate and Lachlan Lewis will need to impress Barrett and assistant coaches David Furner and Craig Sandercock next season to earn contract extensions.

"We have been consistent for a number of years now in saying that it will be 2021 and beyond that we start to have more control over our roster management, and we have got to a point now where we are starting to take control over some of those decisions," Hill said.

"We have still got some spots for 2021 that we are looking at but certainly 2022 provides more opportunity to start to build a footy team that Trent is keen on building."

After inheriting a number of long expensive contracts when he took control of the club in 2018, Hill has worked hard to free up space in Canterbury's salary cap and some tough decisions had to be made.

Jackson, Elliott, Hopoate, Lewis, Fataila-Mariner, Jeremy Marshall-King, Renouf Toomaga, Ofahiki Ogden and Chris Smith are the only players remaining from the first year of Dean Pay's tenure as coach in 2018.

"It has been challenging and it has been really hard for lots of people but unfortunately there is no fast-forward button regarding this, it was just something that we had to work through to the best of our ability," Hill said.

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"We are really pleased that we are at a stage now where we can start making our own decisions and hopefully get the right outcome for all of us."

The off-season recruitment drive has sparked excitement about Canterbury's prospects next season and that is being reflected in sponsorship and membership sales for 2021 as it becomes evident the club had finally gotten its act together again.

However, with changes to the board and a whole new coaching staff, Hill wants to ensure the Bulldogs don't lose sight of their goal to set the club up for years to pursue short-term success.

The Bulldogs coaching staff oversee pre-season training.
The Bulldogs coaching staff oversee pre-season training. ©

"There is a lot of optimism and a lot of positivity but the reality is we haven't played a game," Hill said.

"We have got a lot of work to do to improve our football club from where we finished last year and that is our focus.

"We have had some good announcements, we have got corporate partners joining, membership has got off to a good start for renewals next year and yes, we have signed some players but no one internally is thinking that any of this is easy.

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"It is hard work and not for a minute are we thinking about anything else except establishing the right environment from now on."

The Bulldogs remain hopeful of convincing Addo-Carr to be a part of their future but there is a long way to go in negotiations before any deal with the NSW and Australian winger for the 2022 season and beyond is announced.

"We have had very, very early conversation with Josh, he has come to have a look at the facility but there is a lot of water to go under the bridge before anything happens," he said.

"Quality players attract other players and we have always had fantastic facilities, we got tremendous support from our licensed club, we have the most passionate supporter base in the league and the most loyal members in the game.

"Now all of a sudden we are able to bring all of that together with some quality players joining I don't think we are too far away from returning the club to where we all want it to be."

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