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If the Bulldogs needed any further confirmation that they were on a winner with Stephen Crichton, it came on Wednesday when the champion centre turned up a month ahead of schedule to join his new teammates in pre-season training.

Just six weeks after finishing his Pacific Championships campaign with Samoa, the three-time premiership winner reported for duty at Belmore, well ahead of the official January 8 arrival he had circled in his diary.

For Bulldogs coach Cameron Ciraldo, the sign of intent from the champion centre is a massive boost as he looks to set the tone for a season many expect to produce a return to finals football for the eight-time premiers.

“Stephen wasn’t due back for another month but that shows what sort of person he is that he wants come back and contribute now and form into a leader,” Ciraldo told Big Sports Breakfast.

“He is just a genuine winner, he prepares to win every day, and he’s the ultimate professional.

Stephen Crichton gets down to business on his first day at Bulldogs training.
Stephen Crichton gets down to business on his first day at Bulldogs training. ©Canterbury Bulldogs

“He’s the best centre in the world and he can play fullback and he played five-eighth for Samoa at the end of year and would have learned a lot from that.

“The energy he brings every day and the professionalism he brings will be huge for this group.”

At 23 and in the prime of his career, Crichton is the centrepiece of a stunning recruitment drive that has also seen the Bulldogs add Josh Curran, Kurt Mann, Drew Hutchison, Connor Tracey, Blake Taaffe and Jake Turpin to their roster.

After starting the 2023 season solidly enough the Bulldogs fell away badly when injuries struck, and Ciraldo says the new faces have them better equipped to handle adversity next season.

The Family Club delivers again

“We wanted to build a squad with a lot of depth in 2024 and the recruits have all added something in their own way so that has been exciting,” he said.

“The way we are training we are seeing the strengths they bring and we can make some slight changes around what they can bring to a team - you’d be crazy not to have their input.

“Kurt Mann has been great with offering advice on different things that have worked for him in the past and Josh Curran has showed what he can add.

“Connor Tracey can fullback, centre or wing and attacks everything with gusto, while Drew Hutchison and Jaeman Salmon come from good systems.”

When Salmon pulls on the blue and white jersey for the first time in 2024 he will become the fourth Panthers premiership alumni to complete the switch alongside Matt Burton, Viliame Kikau and Crichton, all bringing a winning culture to the table at a club that last won a title two decades ago.

Burton focused and working hard

One more leading figure Penrith's dynasty who could yet find himself at Canterbury is five-eighth Jarome Luai, who comes off contract at the end of 2024 and is weighing offers from Wests Tigers and the Bulldogs as well as remaining a Panther.

Luai has made his name as a No.6, proving the perfect foil for Nathan Cleary, but speculation has swirled as to whether he could step up and run the show from halfback at a new club.

For his part, Ciraldo has no doubt the 26-year-old could transition from game breaker to game manager.

From the Winner's sheds: Jarome Luai

"Jarome can do anything he wants. He's a quality player, he loves footy, he loves his teammates and every challenge that has been thrown at him, he has gone after it and ultimately succeeded," Ciraldo said.

"His winning ratio in every grade he has played is unbelievable. He could do anything he wants if he puts his mind to it.

"We do have space for more quality talent at the top end and if Jarome landed here that would be great but we are happy with what we have at the moment."

Acknowledgement of Country

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs respect and honour the Darug and Eora nations, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.