Bonding: Mitch Brown, left, seen here taking on Akuila Uate, has been hanging with  his team.

Bonding: Mitch Brown, left, seen here taking on Akuila Uate, has been hanging with his team. Photo: Jonathan Carroll

Boot camps, surfing lessons and team dinners have all been part of a player-led initiative at Canterbury in a bid to bond the squad.

Bulldogs players have embarked on a host of ''man dates'' this pre-season with two players expected to organise an outing for the playing squad each fortnight.

The activities have ranged from competing in Tough Mudder - an endurance obstacle course - to movie watching.

Winger Mitch Brown used his Sutherland shire connections to arrange for the team to hit the surf at Cronulla.

''Tim Lafai and a few of the guys that aren't the best at swimming or watersports struggled,'' Brown said. ''The surf was three to four foot, so it was a tough day.

''It's about keeping the team closer together off the pitch. In pre-season all you want to do is sleep when you finish training and no one really goes out on the weekends … so it's good to go out.

''We sort of did it last year but it faded away a little bit with the schedules and some of the boys having families.

''They are all pushing it a little bit more now, and it's a good excuse to go out of the house for a night or the afternoon. All the players' partners have their own get-togethers too.''

Coach Des Hasler was not among those to enter the surf. The events were generally for players only.

''It's just for the players to be us, without any pressure,'' Brown said. ''We've got a pretty much similar roster to last season so at the start of the pre-season there wasn't any awkwardness, or too many new faces.

''The new guys just slipped straight into the team.''

The Bulldogs have altered their pre-season training too, as they look to put an inconsistent year behind them. Cardiovascular training and doing drills under fatigue have been increased, as they aim to return to the form that led them to rise to grand finalists last year.

''As a group we are fitter,'' Brown said. ''Training has been very tough and I don't know if it has got anything to do with the [upcoming] Nine's tournament, but we are doing a lot more cardio and running.

''We are doing the same sort of things as last year, but we are doing a bit more running sessions.''

The Bulldogs failed to gain any real traction last season, highlighted by a first-week 22-6 loss to Newcastle in an elimination final. Brown said injuries to key players, including James Graham, Frank Pritchard and Sam Kasiano, to start last season's campaign did not help.

''Some games, we looked like the best team in the competition and others, like the worst,'' Brown said. ''It's just about consistency for us. [The focus] at training has been attention to detail. We've been really working on the little things. Dessie pointed out that our errors were pretty high.''

Brown enjoyed a solid season, missing just the Bulldogs' round-one match to play 24 games - the most in a season since his debut for Cronulla in 2006. While he cemented his spot on the wing, Brown, 26, wants to push to fill the fullback position vacated by Ben Barba.

He has spent part of the pre-season rotating at fullback alongside Sam Perrett, Drury Low, Pat Templeman and Corey Thompson.

''I'd put my hand up to play there,'' Brown said. ''I've played a fair bit there but it's up to Dessie and he is keeping his cards close to his chest.

''He … has had five or six of us rotating there at the back.''