Bulldogs coach Cameron Ciraldo has defended his approach amid reports a player recently walked out on the club after they were forced to wrestle 12 teammates for being late to training. The unnamed player was subjected to a practice in wrestling circles known as "shark bait", where he had to stand in the middle of a ring and grapple teammates one after another.
The player was reportedly left distraught at the treatment and didn't even think he was late, leaving training immediately afterwards. The Rugby League Players' Association said it is aware of the situation and the player hasn't featured at NRL level for several weeks.
'SICK OF IT': Latrell Mitchell at centre of shock retirement bombshell
Addressing the situation on Wednesday, Ciraldo said: "It's a pretty sensitive issue and I won't be commenting on that one. At different times we've wanted to put some standards in place and I feel like we have to do something about that.
"We've gone through a range of ways of talking upholding standards. Some of that's been monetary related, sometimes that's been spinning a wheel and then sometimes it's been trying to find ways to change behaviours. The reality is, we need to change behaviours ... we'll continue to find ways where we can change behaviours."
The ugly development is the latest in a long line if issues Ciraldo has had to deal with during a tumultuous first year in change of the Bulldogs. Despite a number of big-name signings, including that of Ciraldo himself, the Dogs are languishing at 15th on the ladder with just one game remaining in the regular season.
The Dogs last made the finals in 2016, and the former Penrith assistant coach has had to deal with reports his players are unsatisfied with his methods - particularly the intensity of training. Ciraldo has constantly bemoaned his players' lack of effort off the ball and said on Wednesday the culture "is not right".
Cameron Ciraldo defends culture and approach at Bulldogs
Club great Willie Mason, who is employed as a pathways transition manager, said on Tuesday the club is attempting to "weed out" players who aren't willing to aim up for Ciraldo. Players have complained of being subject to long days at their Belmore HQ, which Ciraldo said was part of being a successful NRL club.
"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.
"Nobody has come to me and complained about long days, we've got a Jersey Flegg (under 21s) group who do weights at 5am, work for 10 hours and come back and do field at 5.30pm. 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."
Fellow club great Braith Anasta said on Tuesday night on NRL 360: “We’re hearing that players are complaining about training. I’m hearing the coach isn’t happy with a lot of the players there.
“... I’m hearing there are a few players there that are having an influence on those guys [potential recruits] and telling them the training is too hard... and I think that’s embarrassing.”
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.