Canterbury Bulldogs set to embark on $4m spending spree
BRANDON Wakeham will lead the Canterbury Bulldogs into generation next, with the rookie playmaker set to become the club's next Kieran Foran.
On the verge of signing a new deal that will kickstart a $4 million spending spree, Wakeham headlines the new breed of Bulldog that will this year attempt to return the club to finals football for the first time since 2016.
"It is certainly a good time to be a young player at our club,'' Bulldogs boss Andrew Hill said.
"There will be plenty of opportunities for our next generation and the future is certainly looking bright."
The Bulldogs will be hoping generation next can turn them into a top-eight team. Young guns Wakeham, Morgan Harper, Jackson Topine, Jake Averillo and Isaiah Tass all expected to play NRL this year.
With 10 full-time spots up for grabs next season, Hill said a finals charge could force the club to recruit from within.
"A lot of players are out to impress Dean and the coaching staff this year," Hill said.
"Players coming through the local system and players who have just come into the system have a big opportunity. There are spots in our club and they could cement them for many years to come."
After finishing 12th last year, the Bulldogs are hoping for another year of improvement before a much-improved salary cap position in 2021 gives them on opportunity to return to their place as a finals force.
With only workhorse forwards Dean Britt and Joe Stimson recruited to the club, the Bulldogs will be relying on an up-and-comer to give them the match winning strike power they desperately need.
Who's in: Dean Britt (Rabbitohs), Joe Stimson (Storm), Sione Katoa (Panthers), Isaiah Tass (upgraded from development list), Jake Averillo (upgraded from lower grades)
Who's out: Fa'amanu Brown, Danny Fualalo, Michael Lichaa, John Olive (all released), Connelly Leumelu (Cowboys), Kaiyne-Lee Kalache
Canterbury failed to hit the market in any significant way with their biggest recruit a bench player from the Melbourne Storm. While Stimson is expected to add some starch to the pack, the Bulldogs will be relying on an unknown to jump out of the box and give them strike power and points.
The hooking spot may also prove an issue with the club without a recognised specialist No.9. Jeremy Marshall-King is in line for first crack but will need to prove he can handle the defensive workload in the middle.
Off-contract 2020: Jack Cogger, Adam Elliott, Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Kieran Foran, Morgan Harper, Kerrod Holland, Marcelo Montoya, Sauaso Sue, Isaiah Tass, Aiden Tolman, Brandon Wakeham
Transfer targets: Josh Addo Carr, Nick Cotric, Harry Grant, Jordan Kahu and Anthony Milford.
Canterbury are set to embark on a $4 million spending spree, with Josh Addo-Carr at the top of a shopping list that could result in 11 players recruited to the club by the end of next year.
With 2021 shaping as the Year of the Dog, only 17 players are guaranteed to survive beyond 2020, with arguably the club's most important recruitment drive to start on November 1.
Having already snared English front-row target Luke Thompson on a rich three-year deal, the Bulldogs will turn their attention to snare a marquee outside back in a bid to buy potency. Addo-Carr is target No.1 while the club is also expected to make a play for rising Raider Nick Cotric.
The Bulldogs are also on the hunt for a hooker and have made secret inquiries about Cameron Smith's heir apparent at the Storm, Harry Grant. It is understood the club has already knocked back a backdoor approach from Nathan Peats.
The club's biggest challenge may be finding a replacement for Kieran Foran. With no big-name playmakers off-contract at the end of the year, the Bulldogs are desperately hoping to find a star within their own ranks. Off-contract young guns Jack Cogger and Brandon Wakeham will be closely watched.
Burning question: Who is the next Kieran Foran?
With Foran in danger of missing the entire season, the Bulldogs need one of their four young halves to step up and show they are the next big thing.
Jack Cogger has all but cemented the first starting spot but the former Newcastle Knight is yet to prove himself a matchwinner.
Lachlan Lewis, Wakeham and Marshall-King are all competing for the other spot, although the latter is expected to fill the hooking role vacated by discarded rake Lichaa.
Lewis was given a contract extension last year despite spending time in reserve grade and has an edge over Wakeham when it comes to experience. But Wakeham is considered a potential star and is out to make season 2020 his breakout year.
It's a big year for: Dean Pay
Off-contract at the end of the year, Pay will be racing the clock to earn himself another deal.
Inheriting a salary cap mess when he took over from Des Hasler in 2019, Pay has won just 18 games - and lost 30 - in his two full years as the Bulldogs coach.
The club only demanded the Bulldogs show improvement under Pay after publicly acknowledging that back-ended deals had left him hamstrung.
Pay met the demand - just. Finishing 12th in both 2018 and 2019, the Bulldogs won two more games last year than the previous season. While he hasn't been able to hit the open market in a big way, Pay has been able to recruit players thanks to a series of cap space freeing offloads. A number of players, including Aaron Woods, Moses Mbye and Dave Klemmer, left to join other clubs in a move that freed up salary cap cash.
The Bulldogs were able to free up the cash to sign Cogger, Nick Meaney, Christian Crichton, Corey Harawira-Naera, Dylan Napa and Dallin Watene Zelezniak for 2019 and Stimson and Britt for 2020.
The Bulldogs have also invested in putting a team around Pay by appointing club great Steve Price as the general manager of football and Steve Litvensky as the football manager.
Dave Hamilton and Craig Wilson were also brought to the club in development roles.
A poor season start will almost certainly cost Pay his job.
Generation Next spearhead bright Bulldogs future
Brandon Wakeham: Half Fijian, half Lebanese, Wakeham has already tasted Test football with the No.7 showcasing his potential by starring for the Bati. Hailing from Chester Hill, Wakeham is out to snare a starting spot in the halves.
Potentially the Bulldogs' best attacking playmaking option, Wakeham possess both speed and a step, while his kicking and organisational games are a work in progress.
Morgan Harper: Entering his second year in the full-time squad, Harper is hoping to break out this season after making his debut in 2019. An outside back plucked out of New Zealand, Harper is an attacking weapon with plenty of potential.
Jackson Topine: Signed until the end of 2022, Topine is an early favourite to claim the NRL's rookie of the year. Certain to get plenty of opportunity in a no-frills Bulldogs pack, the former Australian Schoolboys captain is a 96kg ball-running back-rower.
Isaiah Tass: An outside back, Tass earned a spot in the Bulldogs' full-time squad following a barnstorming year in the Canterbury Cup. Recruited from Mackay in 2018, Tass is an 185cm winger who can also play centre.
Pre-season hero: Nick Meaney.
Word is that he came back looking like a "first grader" to storm through his second full-time off-season. One of the Bulldogs' standouts in 2019, the fullback-turned-winger has lost none of his pace despite packing on fresh muscle.
The best player you've never heard of
The Bulldogs' NRL bolter is expected to be outside back Jake Averillo. A Canterbury junior hailing from Moorebank, Averillo was a last-minute addition to the Bulldogs' full-time squad and is expecting to push for an NRL spot this year. Privately, the coaching staff are tipping him for big things.
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