With a question mark over his marquee recruit and a mountainous injury pile-up, Canterbury coach Trent Barrett has admitted: "We're in a bit of a hole."
The Bulldogs lost 32-12 to the Dragons on Sunday in a match in which Barrett benched chief playmaker Kyle Flanagan before Lachlan Lewis (lung) and Corey Allan (head/neck) were taken to hospital.
Flanagan, who arrived at Belmore from the Roosters over the summer, was replaced at half-time by Lewis but received a reprieve when Allan was stretchered off at the 60th-minute mark.
Barrett has been left unsure of who will wear the No.7 in next week's Magic Round clash with the Raiders at Suncorp Stadium.
Asked why he hooked Flanagan at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, he said: "The execution of our set-ends again. We had some opportunities early in that first half and it's something we need to address.
Meaney sprints away
"Given where we are on the table, I think we need to make some change where we see fit. If that's what's in the best interests of the team moving forward, well that's what we'll do."
He added that he hadn't properly spoken to Flanagan about the decision "but we'll have a chat about that throughout the week".
Barrett backed the talented 22-year-old to grow from the experience.
Atoni steals the ball then scores
"We all have to [bounce back]," he continued.
"Kyle's not the only one. There are 17 blokes in a team and we've all got to perform. But we've all got different roles to play."
Assuming Lewis won't be fit, Brandon Wakeham appears most likely to partner Jake Averillo in the halves if Barrett drops Flanagan.
The Bulldogs didn't score in the first half despite spending ample time in St George Illawarra's end. At one stage, they seemed to have the Dragons shot on the right edge but Flanagan boldly chose to kick instead of passing and the ball sailed over the sideline.
In fairness to the halfback, he wasn't helped by his teammates making a litany of handling errors in good-ball situations.
"From a [team] performance point of view, I thought our execution was poor. I thought our discipline was poor. Across the board it was poor," said Barrett, whose side has won one from nine games.
Luck has hardly been on Canterbury's side recently. Lewis, Allan and Ava Seumanufagai (head knock) are in doubt for next week at the least and Barrett rattled off a long list of others in the casualty ward.
"None [will return] next week," Barrett said.
Match Highlights: Dragons v Bulldogs
"In about three weeks we'll get [Jack] Hetherington [suspension], Josh Jackson [calf] and [Jeremy] Marshall-King [foot] back possibly.
"[Jayden] Okunbor [knee] is still probably six weeks, [Christian] Crichton [knee] is probably a bit longer than that, [Dylan] Napa [shoulder] probably a fortnight, [Raymond Faitala] Mariner [foot] six weeks.
"So we're in a bit of a hole, mate. It's 50% of our starting side really that we're missing."
The Bulldogs withdrew a handful of fringe first-graders from the Mounties NSW Cup match on Sunday to ensure players complied with COVID-19 protocols in case they're needed in the Telstra Premiership next week.