Canterbury Bulldogs wrestling with how hard to push players after training incident

“Hold up, we are finishing this together as a team,” said the group leader.

What he witnessed had made an impression on Bellamy.

The Bulldogs during their training session on Wednesday.

The Bulldogs during their training session on Wednesday.Credit: SMH, Kate Geraghty

When the session was over, he gathered everyone together.

“You,” Bellamy said pointing to the player with the busted leg, “are one tough bastard. You’re in the team.”

The whole squad cheered as one.

“And you,” said Bellamy singling out the ringleader, who slowed the session down just enough to ensure everyone finished it together, “are my captain.”

The kid with the busted leg, Dallas Johnson, went on to become a Bellamy favourite who represented his state and country. The newly appointed skipper was Cameron Smith.

Dallas Johnson and Cameron Smith in 2006.

Dallas Johnson and Cameron Smith in 2006.Credit: Angela Wylie

It is these types of stories that frame our expectations of footballers. When Dylan Brown turned up to a time trial on his first day of Parramatta pre-season, he fell over the finish line so dehydrated that he was put on a drip and rushed to hospital in an ambulance.

“Two days later, he was right to go again,” Parramatta coach Brad Arthur said at the time. “He won the boys over. That shows his character. Tough kid.”

But what happens when the footballers are pushed too far? And how far is too far? When does pushing athletes to their limits become a hazing ritual?

Bulldogs coach Cameron Ciraldo at a press conference on Wednesday.

Bulldogs coach Cameron Ciraldo at a press conference on Wednesday.Credit: Kate Geraghty

These are timely questions given revelations that a Canterbury player sought leave after being forced to wrestle up to a dozen teammates for being late to training. One onlooker described the punishment as “brutal”, while another felt the standards the club is trying to reach weren’t being adhered to.

The Rugby League Players Association is looking into the matter, while the NRL also wants further information from the Bulldogs. However, coach Cameron Ciraldo and general manager Phil Gould remain unapologetic for trying to instil a harder edge.

“We’re the worst team in the competition right now,” Gould lamented.


Ciraldo, by Gould’s estimation, has come from the best team in the competition to the worst. The coach believes that no more is being asked of the Bulldogs than when he was helping oversee preparation of the Panthers.

A cursory glance at Canterbury’s training schedule suggests as much. While there have been grumblings about the demanding working days at Belmore, some of them are over by lunchtime.

The Bulldogs aren’t the only club grappling with how far to push its players. Over at South Sydney, the club has had to deny rumours that Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker are being held to a lesser standard.

Assistant coach Sam Burgess raised the issue with coach Jason Demetriou and now he has gone, just days before the biggest game of the season, apparently to focus on his next job and becoming a father again.

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