A defiant Cameron Ciraldo has received the backing of Phil Gould for his tough approach after an unnamed Canterbury player was made to wrestle teammates as punishment for turning up late to a training session.
Ciraldo defended his methods on Wednesday and was later applauded by Bulldogs football manager Gould for his high levels of discipline.
The player was subjected to a practice known in wrestling circles as "shark bait", where he had to stand in the middle of a ring and grapple teammates one after another as punishment.
The player has gone on a period of leave and was not present at training on Wednesday, with Ciraldo unclear when, or if, he would return.
The Rugby League Players' Association is aware of the situation involving the player, who has not featured for the club at NRL level in several weeks.
Gould said on his Nine Network podcast that Ciraldo's hard edge was needed given the Bulldogs' dismal displays this year.
"We're the worst team in the competition right now and have been for some time," Gould said on Six Tackles With Gus.
"The coach (Ciraldo) and the staff are certainly making no apologies for the intensity with which they train."
Ciraldo said such wrestling punishments were one of many sanctions dished out to players during his tenure.
"We've gone through a range of ways of upholding standards," Ciraldo said.
"Some of that's been monetary related, sometimes that's been spinning a wheel.
"The reality is, we need to change behaviours ... we'll continue to find ways where we can change behaviours."
The incident is the latest challenge Ciraldo has had to navigate in his first year in charge of the Bulldogs.
Canterbury are in 15th spot heading into the final round of the season and haven't made the NRL finals since 2016.
Ciraldo arrived from Penrith over the off-season with great fanfare, but his disciplined stance has led to suggestions fed-up players have complained about the length of their work days.
Willie Mason - a club great, who is employed by the Dogs as a pathways transition manager - labelled dissenting players "soft as s**t" on his podcast on Tuesday before Ciraldo said he was keen to fix a culture that "is not right".
"Nothing comes without hard work. We have one long day a week and if you get the last massage you're probably leaving at 5.30pm," Ciraldo said.
"The days were longer at the place I was previously.
"We've got a leadership group that we meet with every week and you'd like to think if there was some unrest that those guys would have brought it up."
Mason said Ciraldo was going to "weed out" the players who didn't aim up for him.
The Bulldogs coach sounded a similar warning, indicating he was only keen on retaining players who wanted to adapt to his demands.
"One thing that won't change is my attitude towards hard work and understanding that's what's going to get us to where we need to go," Ciraldo said.
"If there are people that don't want to work hard and don't want to tick every box to win NRL games then they don't have to be here."
Ciraldo, who finishes his first full season in charge of the club against the Gold Coast on Sunday, could find himself under fresh scrutiny if the Bulldogs don't start 2024 on the right foot.
The football club's board is set for elections in February next year and whoever is in charge will want to see an upturn in results after another disappointing year.