Matt Burton and Reed Mahoney axed in Stephen Crichton captaincy development

The three-time premiership winner is up for the challenge after being handed a big responsibility.

Matt Burton and Reed Mahoney have been dropped as Canterbury co-captains with new recruit Stephen Crichton named the club's sole skipper in 2024. Pic: Getty
Matt Burton and Reed Mahoney have been dropped as Canterbury co-captains with new recruit Stephen Crichton named the club's sole skipper in 2024. Pic: Getty

Canterbury Bulldogs coach Cameron Ciraldo has made a massive decision ahead of the NRL season after appointing star recruit Stephen Crichton as the club's new captain. The three-time premiership winner replaces last season's co-captains Reed Mahoney and Matt Burton, with Ciradldo hoping the former Penrith superstar can transform the fortunes at the club.

The Bulldogs haven't played finals footy since 2016 when Des Hasler was coach and finished a disappointing 15th on the ladder in Ciraldo's first season at the helm in 2023. The club has made a number of big-name signings over the last few seasons, with Mahoney and Burton among them. But the Bulldogs coach is putting his faith in 23-year-old Crichton to bring a winning mentality to his team after establishing himself as one of the premier centres in the competition at the Panthers.

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Crichton has made a big impact since joining up with Canterbury's squad after his third straight grand final triumph and Ciraldo says his leadership qualities were quickly evident. “Stephen is a really good reader of energy. He understands when people are a little bit flat, low on energy, and when it’s a bit quiet, and he can change the mood in an instant," the Bulldogs coach said.

"Sometimes that’s with some annoying music or sounds, or loud noises that he comes up with but he’s great at bringing people together. He really understands bringing positive energy to the group and he’s been such a valuable asset to us this pre-season.

“Reed [Mahoney] and Burto [Matt Burton] have played integral roles in setting the foundation for our team’s success, both on and off the field. They did an exceptional job being thrown in the deep end last year and put their hands up during a challenging year to help guide our young squad. There were a lot of lessons and learnings out of last year and both Reed and Burto will be better from the experience of it.”

Crichton's leadership skills were evident during the club's army camp in pre-season, and the 23-year-old says he is determined to lead by example in 2024. The NSW Origin centre gave a nod to the leaders at his former club Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo and says he can't wait to bring what he's learned at Penrith to his new club.

Pictured centre, Stephen Crichton celebrates after winning his third straight NRL premiership with Penrith.
Stephen Crichton joins the Bulldogs after winning three consecutive NRL premierships with Penrith. Pic: Getty

Stephen Crichton keen to put his stamp on Bulldogs

“I just want to lead with my actions,” Crichton said in a statement released by Canterbury. “I’ve been at a successful club and I’ve seen what good leaders look like and I’ve learnt a lot from the older boys that I was with and I’ve taken a few things from each person that I can implement in my life on and off the field, as well as in being a leader.

“Going into the camp I knew straight away the boys were nervous and I knew that my communication and leadership could bring the boys up a bit and make them excited. I was looking at the back end of the camp, when camp was finished, and where this team could go to and I knew that they needed a leader to get them through the camp. So, I just kind of took on that role from the start.

“We have a lot of leaders that were talking through camp just as much as me, and I wasn’t trying to put that pressure just on me, I leaned on them, the other senior boys, just as much as they were leaning on myself.” Crichton is sure to endear himself to Dogs fans after admitting he's listened to former greats of the club about what it means to put on a Bulldogs jersey.

“I just listened to a few of the boys that have been at the club for a while about how much it means to them and it hit me. It’s a community club, it’s a family club. They really do care about their fans,” Crichton added.

“I see it as hard-working, proper Dogs. Hungry. I look at the past players, Sonny Bill, Willie Mason, James Graham, players like that. They just did it without hesitation. They were just hard Dogs. That’s what I see the club as and that’s what Ciro [Ciraldo] is trying to build here.

"You put the team first, you go out there and you play your heart out. That’s what being a Bulldog means. I can’t wait to go out there and play for them [the Bulldogs] and for my family.” Crichton was rested for Canterbury's first pre-season win against Melbourne last week but is included in a strong 17-man squad to take on Cronulla on Friday night. The Bulldogs open their NRL season against Parramatta at CommBank Stadium on March 9.

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