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Fullback and forth: DWZ and Hopoate to share roles, says Pay

Dean Pay has revealed star backs Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Will Hopoate could each spend time at fullback in Monday’s match against St George Illawarra at Bankwest Stadium.

Watene-Zelezniak, the New Zealand Test captain, will wear the No.1 jersey, while his Tongan counterpart has been named in the centres but Pay said they could swap positions during the clash with the Dragons.

Hopoate is regarded as one of the best defensive fullbacks in the game and the Bulldogs have focused heavily on defence after last weekend’s 32-6 loss to Manly, while Watene-Zelezniak has played much of his career for Penrith and the Kiwis on the wing.

Star playmaker Kieran Foran returns at five-eighth after a shoulder injury suffered playing for New Zealand against Great Britain at Eden Park in November and will resume the halves partnership he developed last season with Lachlan Lewis.

However, Pay is also set to shake up his outside backs, with rookie centre Jake Averillo expected to come into the side at the expense of winger Christian Crichton.

If Hopoate spends time in his usual centre position, Reimis Smith would be likely to move to the wing. If Hopoate is fullback, Smith would be in the centres and Watene-Zelezniak moves to the wing.

Bulldogs v Dragons - Round 4

"We looked at a few different options through the week and that is one of them," Pay said of the positional switches between Hopoate and Watene-Zelezniak.

"At some stage during the game we might change it around.

"We have got a number of versatile guys who can switch positions so we just sat down and had a chat about it during the week. That is one of our options.

"To get 30 points put on us last week is not where we want to be, we need to defend better than that and get back to the standards we set ourselves."

The return of Foran has given the team a huge boost and Pay said his influence had been obvious at training.

"There is no doubt we lacked experience in our halves so just having him there during the week at training gives all the rest of our players a real lift," Pay said

"We are hoping tomorrow that we can get the best out of him and he brings the best out of every player that we have got out there. We are all excited for him and we want him to get through tomorrow and get through the next 17 games of the season."

Canterbury’s preparations were disrupted when the team was prevented from training on Friday while waiting for former Bulldogs great Terry Lamb to receive the results of a COVID-19 test.

Lamb breached the NRL’s strict biosecurity protocols when he attended training last Thursday and shook hands with Pay and a number of players.

"You are seeing in the news and in the media where everything is starting to be relaxed but we have got stricter rules, sometimes you fall into that trap," Pay said. "There is no intention but we broke the rules so we had to go through the protocols and we moved on.

"It was unfortunate, there was no intention to do anything wrong. Baa just called in to drop a footy jumper off, it was all harmless."

Is it time for Foran to change his approach?

Pay said the players had been warned not to wear headphones for up to 30 minutes before they undergo temperature tests at the stadium on match day after Sydney Roosters and Cronulla players suffered problems before their games.

The Roosters and Sharks players eventually passed their tests but it threw a scare into both camps.

"Even last week on the way up to the Central Coast we made sure our players took them [headphones] off well in advance before they got to the stadium. It is just one of those things we have got to make sure we tick off."