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Bulldogs begin search for Barrett replacement after emotional exit

Canterbury GM of football Phil Gould believes Trent Barrett still has a future in coaching as the club prepares to appoint an internal replacement for Friday night's match against Wests Tigers following his resignation from the Bulldogs job.

An emotional Barrett decided to stand down after "pouring his heart out" to Gould in the wake of Friday night's 16-6 loss to Newcastle in the opening match of Magic Round at Suncorp Stadium.

Barrett's resignation ahead of a board meeting at which captain Josh Jackson had asked to speak on behalf of the player, took Canterbury officials by surprise and they are yet to decide who will take over in an interim capacity.

However, Gould confirmed it would be an internal appointment and said the interim coach was likely to be in charge for the remainder of the season until an "experienced man" takes over in 2023.

Premiership winning coaches Paul Green and Shane Flanagan fit that description, along with Tonga mentor Kristian Woolf, who took St Helens to last year's Super League title, and former Sharks coach John Morris.

Among those believed to be under consideration for the interim role are former NRL coaches David Furner (Raiders), who was an assistant to Barrett, and Mick Potter (Wests Tigers), who is coach of Mounties NSW Cup team.

David Furner is under consideration to take over as interim coach
David Furner is under consideration to take over as interim coach ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

“It was Trent’s decision. I certainly wasn’t going to sack him. It’s sad it’s come to this," Gould told media outside Belmore Oval on Monday.

“I think the performances and pressure, he got the feeling he didn’t have the solutions for what was going wrong. That’s how he felt at the time. He made the decision on Sunday night.

"It was a rollercoaster through Saturday and Sunday. Late last night after I had finished the commentary on Nine, we had a long discussion. It was pretty raw, he poured his heart out a bit, and he put his heart into this job.

“He wanted to end the speculation and any pressure on the board to make a decision, so he took it upon himself. It’s sad the way it has ended. Hopefully he finds a bit of respite now and a bit of peace.”

Barrett "poured his heart out" in a phone call to Gould before resigning.
Barrett "poured his heart out" in a phone call to Gould before resigning. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

A scheduled media session with Canterbury players at Belmore Oval on Monday morning was cancelled and the club later issued a statement confirming Barrett's departure.

With a 'flu outbreak within the team, some players learned the news via text message and Barrett wasn't at Belmore Oval to clear out his office as he was attending a funeral in Port Macquarie.

Barrett was highly popular among the Bulldogs playing group and staff, and there was genuine disappointment within the club on Monday that his coaching tenure had ended so abruptly. 

While an emergency board meeting had been called for Monday following a weekend of soul searching by Barrett and club officials, Gould did not believe directors would have sacked him.

With Barrett resigning, players were sent home and told a new coach would be in place for Friday night's clash with the Tigers at Leichhardt Oval.

"We are all suffering today, it’s not good but we have to turn up and get going again tomorrow," Gould said. "We actually have a huge 'flu going through the place.

“A number of players couldn’t be here today, we had to tell them by text message. Many of them have since phoned me. We have called tomorrow’s training off and we’ll resume on Wednesday.

“We’ll have to come up with an interim coach in the next 24 hours. I’ll meet with the coaches tomorrow and have lunch with them and just discuss how we are going to do it going forward. There won’t be any external [interim coach], it will be internal.

“We’re just trying to get through the week. There is no decision about a future coach, we are not thinking about it. We didn’t contemplate having to find an interim coach today, that wasn’t on the agenda. We never thought we would be in this position today.”

Having previously coached Manly from 2016 to 2018, Barrett took charge of the Bulldogs last season and has overseen 33 Telstra Premiership games for the club.

During that time, the team has managed just five wins, including two this season -the most recent being a 16-12 defeat of the Roosters on April 30.

It was only two weeks ago that Barrett was celebrating a win against the Roosters
It was only two weeks ago that Barrett was celebrating a win against the Roosters ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Of Canterbury's eight losses this season, four were by 10 points or less, including a 13-12 defeat by the Sea Eagles, while last year's grand finalists Penrith and South Sydney won by 20 point margins, as did Brisbane in round 7.

The Bulldogs also beat the Cowboys 6-4 and lost 44-0 to the Storm. 

However, after being the biggest movers in the off-season transfer market, there was an expectation that the Bulldogs would not only cast aside last year's wooden spoon but become top eight contenders.

Gould said Barrett's departure less than two years after the Bulldogs parted ways with Dean Pay reflected on the performance of the entire club and he backed the 44-year-old's coaching ability.

“He’s as good a young coach I’ve seen coming through the system, he’s just been in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Gould said.

“He’s taken on big jobs because he backs himself and he’s very confident in his own ability. He works extremely hard - he’s the most hard-working young coach I’ve seen.

“He put his heart and soul into it, he gave his best, but he said, ‘I can’t see a way clear now, and I don’t want the club to suffer’, so he made the decision himself.

"When a coach feels like he needs to resign, we all feel like we’ve failed."

A dejected Matt Burton and Matt Dufty during the loss to the Knights
A dejected Matt Burton and Matt Dufty during the loss to the Knights ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

Barrett is renowned as an attacking coach, with leading playmakers Nathan Cleary and Daly Cherry-Evans rating him highly, while he has been credited for helping to transform Isaah Yeo into arguably the game's best ball-playing forward.

Yet the Bulldogs have the worst attack in the NRL, having scored just 96 points in 10 matches so far this season.

Panthers assistant Cameron Ciraldo and NSW Origin coach Brad Fittler are among the names linked to the role, along with Green, Flanagan, Morris and Woolf.

“My thought at the moment is we put an interim coach in for the rest of the season and then the long-term version of the Bulldogs coaching is a discussion for another time,” Gould told 100% Footy.

“I don’t have anyone in mind, I really don’t. I think it is a job for an experienced man. It's not an easy situation."

The first priority of whoever gets the job will be retaining star five-eighth Matt Burton beyond 2023 after he joined Canterbury as part of a massive recruitment drive which included Josh Addo-Carr, Brent Naden, Tevita Pangai jnr, Matt Dufty and Paul Vaughan. 

Panthers strike forward Viliame Kikau and Eels hooker Reed Mahoney will further bolster Canterbury's ranks in 2023.

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