Bulldogs rebuild no cut-and-paste job for Ciraldo
Cameron Ciraldo has declared Canterbury's rebuild will not be a cut-and-paste job of Penrith's, as he and Phil Gould's Bulldogs revolution prepares to go into overdrive.
Ciraldo will coach Canterbury for the first time in the NRL against Manly on Saturday, hoping to bring an end to years of false dawns and six seasons out of the finals for the proud family club.
Already beset by injuries in the forwards, the Bulldogs' bench will include train-and-trial prop Jayden Tanner, debutant Jacob Preston and one-game player Franklin Pele.
The majority of international forward Luke Thompson's season looks likely to be ruined by an ankle injury, putting him alongside Tevita Pangai (calf) and Chris Patolo (knee) on the sidelines.
But Ciraldo is adamant the rookies are ready and the Bulldogs' DNA can help cover the blows.
He invited Sonny Bill Williams to speak with the players last week, pointing to similarities between the superstar's debut in the centres in 2004 and the chance teenager Paul Alamoti will get on Saturday.
Ciraldo has been there for rebuilds before with Gould.
He arrived at Penrith as a player for Gould's first full year as general manager in 2012, and transitioned into coaching the then-battling club's under-20s shortly afterwards.
By the time of his exit as a two-time premiership-winning assistant coach under Ivan Cleary last year, several of Penrith's stars had graduated out of Ciraldo's teams.
He is ready to start again at Canterbury.
"It's a different club, at a different part of their journey," Ciraldo said.
"Our journey starts tomorrow. Penrith's journey started a long time ago. But it's a different club built on different things.
"I'm not trying to copy-and-paste anything. I'm just doing what we have to do."
The similarities are not limited to Ciraldo and Gould.
The left-edge combination of Matt Burton and Viliame Kikau struck gold at Penrith in 2021, with Ciraldo noting how the former had grown in confidence since then.
Corey Waddell and Tanner are other players who spent time in the Penrith system, while Stephen Crichton is the high-profile recruit for next season.
"In some ways (it's similar). But in some ways it is very different," Ciraldo said.
"There are a lot of things in place in this club that are very good and where they need to be.
"And there are a few things we are trying to fix up.
"I really am excited about what this club offers. It's been really cool to understand the history and DNA of this place."
Ciraldo predicted Jake Averillo could become one of the NRL's best centres on the right edge, after regularly switching positions since his 2020 debut.
"Jake can be an elite centre," he said.
"I probably thought it before getting here, and even more so since watching him.
"If he can play to his potential at centre, he will be among the top echelon of players in that position."