Among the players whose futures are yet to be determined ... Steve Turner and Bryson Goodwin. Photo: Getty Images, Quentin Jones
THE conspiracy theorists, many of whom may be just plain jealous of Canterbury's resurgence under new coach Des Hasler, have been wondering aloud: How can the Bulldogs keep going after star players for next season and still stay under the salary cap?
Well, here is the answer: Almost half of the current first-grade squad are off contract at the end of this season, which means the club has some tough decisions to make when it comes to player retention over the next month.
Canterbury have signed NSW and Australian representative forward Tony Williams from Manly for next year, after missing out on his Sea Eagles teammate, Kiwi international five-eighth Kieran Foran. They have also signed Kiwi internationals Krisnan Inu and Sam Perrett, both outside backs.
Inu cost the club only $50,000 for the bulk of this season when he recently switched clubs from the Warriors, who were prepared to pay most of what he was owed under their contract with him for this year as part of the deal to remove him from their books for next year.
But Inu's earnings will rise substantially at the Bulldogs in 2013.
The nature of the beast, when it comes to player retention and recruitment under the salary cap, is that even some of the players who have contributed to Canterbury's success so far this season - they are in second place on the competition ladder - are in danger of not being offered new contracts.
''Yeah, well, it's hard,'' Bulldogs chief executive Todd Greenberg said yesterday. ''Because some of those guys are playing good footy. They'll get good offers from other clubs, and we need to weigh that up when it comes to who we retain, and who we recruit. It's like that every year - you've got to find a balance in your salary cap. It's not an exact science.''
Recently, there were 12 players among Canterbury's squad of 25 who were not contracted beyond this season, but that has since been cut to 11 with the re-signing of star prop Sam Kasiano, who would have earned a substantial pay rise based on his tremendous form.
That leaves Dene Halatau, Steve Turner, Bryson Goodwin, David Stagg, Jonathan Wright, Kris Keating, Luke MacDougall, Martin Taupau, Joel Romelo, Mitch Brown and Jake Foster as the players whose futures are yet to be determined, although the word is Taupau is among those who will be re-signed.
Five of those players - MacDougall, Wright, Keating, Halatau and Stagg - were yesterday named in the 17-man squad for Sunday's huge game against competition leaders Melbourne in Mackay, and as such would appear well placed to get new contracts with the Bulldogs.
But nothing is sure until deals are done, and it remains to be seen how many - and who - of the 11 players remain at the Bulldogs next season.
Despite the uncertainty, which can sometimes put a team off balance, the Bulldogs are powering along, which is testimony to Hasler's ability to create a great culture within a club and drive players - as individuals and as part of a team - to play consistently good football and keep improving.
Canterbury missed the finals last year, but that clearly won't be happening this year. Asked when decisions about retention or otherwise would be made, Greenberg replied: ''We haven't made them yet. We're in the middle of those discussions as we speak. We've got a lot of people coming off contract, so it's a matter of finding that balance between retaining your own and recruiting externally. We didn't buy very many last year, we only brought [English prop] James Graham to the club.''
It appears likely Perrett will be released early by the Roosters, enabling him to join the Bulldogs next week. ''We made an offer to Sam … so the issue is more in their court than ours,'' Greenberg said. ''We'll just wait for the outcome.''