Canterbury captain Josh Jackson believes the appointment of Trent Barrett was the lure for the Bulldogs signing State of Origin and Test stars in the club’s biggest recruitment drive for more than a decade.
Barrett is widely credited for his influence on Penrith’s attack last season and since he was given the Bulldogs coaching job last July the club has signed Nick Cotric, Corey Allan, Josh Addo-Carr, Kyle Flanagan, Matt Burton, Jack Hetherington and Corey Waddell.
The former NSW and Australian five-eighth was considered one of the best playmakers of his generation and players at Manly, Penrith and now Canterbury rave about Barrett’s understanding of the game and communication skills.
“He has got a really good footy brain and he explains things pretty simply to the players but he has got such a good understanding of the game, particularly the attacking side of things, Jackson said ahead of Friday night's opening round trip to Newcastle.
Knights v Bulldogs - Round 1
“He keeps it really simple for the players and the messages and the structures he has got in place, but the knowledge behind it is pretty impressive.
“I know that a lot of us, even the older guys in the squad, have learned a hell of lot from having him here in the last few months and explaining different things to us.”
It’s not just the playing style that Barrett has overhauled but the age of the Bulldogs squad as he is building a team for the future.
Allan, Cotric and Flanagan are all just 22, while Hetherington and Waddell are 24. Addo-Carr will be 26 when he joins Canterbury from Melbourne next season and Burton turns 21 on Sunday.
“I had a chat to Trent and he was really convincing,” Allan said of his move from South Sydney to the Bulldogs after helping Queensland to regain the Origin shield last November.
“He said he really wanted me and there is team here that we can build for the next couple of years, seeing we are all a similar age, so the possibilities are endless.
“He has a vision and he has told me about it, and how he wants things to go. There are certain types of players he was looking for and I fitted into those plans. He really sounded like he knew what he was doing.”
Hetherington and Waddell, Barrett’s only forward recruits so far, have previously been coached by him at Penrith and Manly respectively, as has Burton, who the Panthers are refusing to release until next season.
The attacking trend set to be a key factor in 2021
However, Barrett managed to persuade Allan and NSW Origin backs Cotric and Addo-Carr that the Bulldogs would be on the rise under his coaching after failing to make the play-offs since 2016 – the club’s longest finals drought since the 1960s.
It is Canterbury's biggest recruitment drive since signing Brett Kimmorley, Michael Ennis, David Stagg, Josh Morris, Ben Hannant and Bryson Goodwin in 2009.
“Signing someone like Foxx [Addo-Carr], who has obviously been one of the top players in his position over a number of years, is great for the club,” Jackson said.
“We want to get a position where we are one of the top teams and we want to attract the best players. I think that is something Baz brings.
“People want to play for him and I don’t know that we would have signed those guys without Baz. I think word gets around and people want to play for him because of what he has done and how good a coach he is.”
'Just like another Cooper Cronk'
The only recruit that Barrett didn’t target was Flanagan but when it became clear that the goalkicking halfback was on the outer at the Sydney Roosters he swooped to sign him.
Flanagan said the opportunity to learn under Barrett had convinced him to join the Bulldogs and he was impressed by the feedback after his only trial appearance against Cronulla.
“We did a review session and he doesn’t miss a thing,” Flanagan said. “He is so smart, with the way he looks at the game in attack and in defence, as well.
“Having him there throughout the year is going to massive for me. He is just like another Cooper Cronk to me.”
Allan had another year to run on his contract with Souths but he was behind Latrell Mitchell for the Souths No.1 jersey and after his impressive Origin debut it was evident that the club couldn’t keep them both.
Barrett told Allan that he wanted to help him reach his potential at the Bulldogs and he requested a release from the Rabbitohs to move across town.
“He just said I had pretty good ball skills and a bit of pace behind me but I am still young and have a lot of room to improve,” Allan said. “He said he wants to be there and help me to do that. It was a big thing because I want to keep improving and get better.
“In the short time I have known him I can see why a lot of people put their trust in him. That’s the impact he had at Penrith and it’s no wonder they went so well.”
Pillars of strength
When Barrett took charge last November, he outlined to the Bulldogs players the four pillars he wanted to build the culture of the team around: Honesty. Trust. Respect. Accountability.
He also told them of his goals for this season and the years ahead under the new Canterbury coaching team, which includes David Furner, Craig Sandercock and David Tanagata-Toa.
“He just explained the type of footy team he wants us to be and that is successful. He just basically said we are not here to make up the numbers, we are here to win the competition,” Jackson said.
Round 1 hype - Knights v Bulldogs
“The way he presents he is really organised and he has just got a very clear vision of how he wants us to look and how he wants us to play, and he gets that across to the players.
“We have done really well with the people we have bought, in terms of both staff and players. All the players have been outstanding, particularly in the key positions with Kyle and Corey Allan.
“They are all good people and fit in well with the culture of the club, which is really important, and they are all good footy players as well.”
English prop Luke Thompson was initially due to join the club this season but made the move last year when the Super League was suspended due to COVID-19 and he said there was a sense of excitement about 2021.
“Obviously I knew the Bulldogs was a massive club and they have a storied history. I had seen James Graham come out here and I followed him so I knew I was coming to a good club and I was confident they were going in the right direction,” Thompson said.
“It is awesome that the club has recruited really well under Trent and all of the new lads have bought something to us.
“Obviously we have got a full new staff, as well, and Trent has just simplified everything for us. Everyone just knows their job and what they have got to do. He is real smart too, he has just got us attacking well and just working hard at training. That is the key.
“Things are really looking good for us so I am just excited about what is to come.”