NRL news 2024 | Rumour Phil Gould taking over Bulldogs team selection, Cameron Ciraldo response

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Bulldogs coach Cameron Ciraldo has calmly batted away claims that he has lost the power to pick the team, denying that the club’s general manager Phil Gould had taken the reins.

Gould is widely considered one of the most powerful figures in the NRL and has been a lightning rod for criticism, particularly by the News Corp press.

On Thursday, senior News Corp columnist Paul Kent laid out a narrative accusing Gould of undermining Ciraldo by picking his own Bulldogs team which was usually quite different to the coach’s.

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He added that for the moment “the coach is having his way”.

The column became a talking point at Ciraldo’s weekly press conference on Thursday, with the coach explaining that the disagreements he had with Gould were all part of grown ups working together.

“We’ve got a good relationship, I wouldn’t have come here if we didn’t,” Ciraldo said with an amused chuckle.

“And if we were going to agree on everything then what’s the point of us being here? It’s healthy disagreements like in any trusting relationship.”

Ciraldo was adamant that Gould was having no say at the selection table.

”In terms of picking the team, yeah, I’m doing that. If he was doing it I’d make him have the tough conversations with the blokes we’re dropping.”

Despite the uncomfortable line of questioning, Ciraldo appeared unfazed by the suggestion that Gould had lost trust in him to do his job.

He answered the questions calmly, infusing jokes, and pointed out that he and Gould had worked together on and off for 12 years, developing what had become close to a father-son relationship.

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”Me and Gus have robust conversations nearly every day. We agree on some things and disagree on a lot of things but that’s the relationship we have that’s been built over 10 or 12 years,” he said.

“What’s good about it is we can have those disagreements and talk two hours later and get on with it. Talking to Gus is like talking to your dad, sometimes he’s got a point and you walk away and you’re like, ‘he makes sense there’, but sometimes we disagree and he trusts me in the way they’re going and what we’re doing.”

One of the major selection issues that has turned into criticism of Gould’s recruitment and Ciraldo’s coaching has been the ability of the playmakers to ice the opportunities being created.

The Bulldogs have been competitive for long periods in all three of the games they have lost, and were up to their eyeballs in last week’s Good Friday defeat to the Rabbitohs before succumbing 20-16.

Critics pointed to a string of missed opportunities due to stray passes and poor decision making when they were attacking the Rabbitohs’ line.

Those issues always fall at the feet of the playmakers and Ciraldo is backing Drew Hutchison to continue as the team’s general in No.7 while Toby Sexton states his case in reserve grade.

Hutchison, Ciraldo says, ”gives us a lot of direction on the field,” while star five-eighth Matt Burton has struggled to assert himself since being shifted from centre to take a role as a permanent half.

Kent’s column focuses on this point and cites Gould’s inability to recruit an established representative level game manager as evidence that the Bulldogs were destined to continue to languish in the lower reaches of the table.

Perhaps this point most aptly illustrates the challenge ahead for the Bulldogs, although it’s perhaps not entirely fair to pin it on Gould given the dearth of quality playmakers who have hit the open market since his arrival at Belmore.

For his part, Ciraldo is putting his faith in Hutchison to improve his execution when the Bulldogs create chances, convinced that his team will continue to front up in the “attitude” and ”effort” departments.

“Teams evolve, teams change and things happen but Drew’s our halfback right now and we’re backing him,” Ciraldo said.

“We love a lot of the stuff that he’s doing and a lot of the stuff’s not getting recognised or seen from outside our four walls. But we value a lot of things he’s doing and we’d like him to build on that.

“Drew’s a half, he’s our half and we’re backing him right now.”

Hutchison and the Bulldogs will have their next chance to silence the critics on Friday night, when they host the Roosters at Accor Stadium.

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