Parramatta have sounded out Canterbury about taking David Klemmer off their books as the vultures begin circling the Bulldogs.
Wanted man: David Klemmer could be a cap casualty for the Bulldogs.
Canterbury's salary cap is so bent out of shape due to back-ended contracts that the club has just $750,000 to spend on recruitment and retention for 2019. The situation isn’t much better the following year due to years of roster mismanagement.
Some of the deals the club has brokered in recent years are staggering. Moses Mbye’s form has improved since his shift to fullback, but it would be difficult to justify the $1.9 million he will receive during the next two seasons.
Greg Eastwood is being paid $800,000 to play reserve grade this year, while the Morris twins are on a combined $1.5 million. Their departure at the end of the season – the club can’t afford to keep the trio – will free up some space, but it won’t be enough to allow the Bulldogs to be a player in the open market.
The new Canterbury hierarchy will address the issues they inherited – and the steps they are taking to resolve them – at a members’ forum this week. However, there is little they can do in the short term.
While the blue and whites are salary cap compliant this season after parting ways with Sam Kasiano, James Graham and Brad Abbey, they will almost certainly have to offload other contracted players in order to build a competitive top 30-squad for the coming seasons.
The cap doesn’t fit: Canterbury’s salary cap mess will make retention and recruitment difficult for years.
The challenge for the Bulldogs is that few of their other big-money stars are attractive propositions to other clubs, even if their contracts were subsidised. Cronulla came agonisingly close to securing veteran forward Aiden Tolman on an immediate transfer, but the Sharks went cold after he picked up an ankle injury.
Aaron Woods and Kieran Foran recently arrived on long-term deals, but their price tags would make them prohibitive, even if they became available.
Fairfax Media revealed last April that Mbye was being shopped to rivals in a bid to free up cap space and there is speculation he would be released if a reasonable offer was made. It has all come as news to his agent, Simon Mammino.
Unclear future: Moses Mbye.
“I certainly haven’t picked up my phone and spoken to anyone about Moses outside of Canterbury,” Mammino said. “Nothing has ever come from our camp.”
However, Mbye, speaking after the Bulldogs beat Parramatta on Friday night, conceded there was likely some truth to the rumours.
"Normally where there's smoke there's fire," Mbye said. "I'm sure the call's been made.
"I understand the business side of it. I get that it's probably an option that the club needs to go in that direction.
"I'm not looking to leave this club, I want to stay. I haven't had that discussion with anyone, with any other club and our club hasn't approached me at all."
Mbye was philosophical about his future.
"I don't know the fine details, but I understand we're not in that good of a way salary cap wise," he said.
"It doesn't hurt. And the reason it doesn't hurt is because I understand where we're at."
The blue and whites have already recruited Newcastle halfback Jack Cogger for next year, but he will remain the club’s highest-profile signing.
With so little money to spend, Canterbury’s focus will turn to recruiting the best young talent and refocusing on its junior pathways. Unfortunately, neither of those strategies will bear fruit in the short term. The departure of Josh Reynolds to the Tigers has left the "family club" with just one local junior in first grade, Marcelo Montoya.
Local talent: Marcelo Montoya is the only junior in Canterbury’s first grade side at the moment.
When the Panthers were faced with a similar rebuild, their focus turned to their junior nursery. Penrith also expanded their footprint into the state’s western corridor, a move that gave them more players to draw from while also promoting bush football. The Country Rugby League is keen for other Sydney clubs to do likewise and the Bulldogs are considering whether to adopt certain regions.
After making a series of shocking recruitment and retention decisions, the attention will be on identifying the best young talent. It’s a challenge the new regime has faced previously.
Recently appointed board member Chris Anderson, when given the coaching duties at the Bulldogs in 1990, had to deal with the departure of half-a-dozen top-line players. The decision to blood the likes of youngsters Dean Pay, Jason Smith, Craig Polla-Mounter and Jason Hetherington – many signed while they were still at school – paid dividends.
How long it takes for the club to recover remains to be seen. Former coach Des Hasler – who recently settled with the Bulldogs following an ugly contract dispute – was given too much latitude in assembling his roster. His quest for immediate results – the pain that comes with heavily back-ended deals is being felt now – ended with the premiership window being shut without a premiership being won.
The new Bulldogs management wants to be transparent with its fans on its plans to fix the mess and has declined to comment on the situation before Friday’s members forum.
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