Andrew Johns has urged the Bulldogs to target a top class halfback and a top class fullback to join the club in 2024 and kickstart their next era of success.
Earlier this week Canterbury’s general manager of football Phil Gould revealed on Wide World of Sports’ Six Tackles with Gus podcast that he was targeting 2024 for a complete roster overhaul with only a handful of players signed beyond next season.
On that list is Reed Mahoney, Viliame Kikau, Matt Burton (player option), Josh Addo-Carr and Tevita Pangai Jnr, giving the club an exciting platform to build around.
If Burton sticks around – and that will likely take a significant upgrade on his current $500,000-a-season deal – he and Mahoney will form two pillars of a spine that has lacked quality throughout the Bulldogs’ recent lean years.
Mahoney will arrive on a deal reportedly worth $600,000-a-season, leaving Canterbury in a good position to invest heavily in the other two positions in the spine for 2024 and beyond.
Speaking on Wide World of Sports’ Immortal Behaviour, Johns identified Jackson Hastings and Reece Walsh as his top picks to bring into those roles, with both coming off contract at the end of next season.
Hastings will have just turned 28 at the start of the 2024 season, while Walsh will be 21. If the Bulldogs could convince those two to sign, they would have a spine they could build around well into the future, with Burton set to turn 24 at the start of the 2024 season and Mahoney turning 26 in April that year.
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Johns said the lack of talent coming through the juniors in key positions would force the Bulldogs to choose known quantities and pay them handsomely to guarantee a brighter future.
Choosing from a list of halfbacks coming off-contract in 2023, Johns said the Bulldogs wouldn’t be able to get Sam Walker out of the Roosters and opted against making Ben Hunt the top halfback target due to his age.
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“You probably look at that and you probably say Jackson Hastings,” Johns said.
“He’s the one they’ll have to go after but to get him out of the Tigers, because there isn’t so much depth in the competition at halfback, you probably have to pay $800-$900,000-a-season or even more to get Jackson out of the Tigers.”
Johns added that Walsh was the best option out of the available fullbacks, picking from a list that also included Latrell Mitchell, Scott Drinkwater, Will Kennedy and Daine Laurie.
“Reece Walsh would be number one for me, and after him I’d go for Scott Drinkwater,” Johns said. “He covers fullback but also five-eighth, a really creative player.
“Will Kennedy has got the magic at the back and also Daine Laurie, but if I had to put them in order I’d say Walsh, Latrell and then Daine Laurie and Will Kennedy together But again, you get Reece Walsh you’re going to have to pay $800-$900,000.”
Johns also described Drinkwater as “a good one to go after” due to the forces at play at the Cowboys, with the 25-year-old in competition with Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow for a permanent claim to the No.1 jersey.
While Gould has plenty of work to do on developing a winning roster, his first job will be to replace Trent Barrett as coach after the under-fire mentor fell on his sword on Sunday night.
Johns has acted as a confidante for Barrett and said he was surprised that the end had come so quickly for him.
“I thought he would see out the season,” Johns said.
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But with the Barrett era now over, Johns encouraged the Bulldogs to think outside the square and consider bringing brothers Ben and Shane Walker to the club to give them a chance to put their unique imprint on the NRL following their early foray success in the Queensland Cup as coach of the Ipswich Jets.
That appointment might have the added bonus of making Sam Walker think twice about re-signing with the Roosters. However unlikely that might be, Johns said the Bulldogs had to be patient and think long-term rather than looking for a quick fix.
“A great example is Melbourne and a great example is Penrith,” Johns said.
“And you have a look at the combinations in key areas, at Penrith they’ve all come through together, so they know the way each other plays. Combinations are so important, so there’s no quick fix.
“They have to build from within, and the advantage they have is they have Phil Gould there. He understands how to build a club and how to coach up the juniors, but it’s going to take time. So Bulldogs fans, try to be patient.”
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