The full depths of Canterbury’s salary cap hell
GREG Eastwood, a former Kiwi international, was picked to run out onto Belmore Oval on Saturday in reserve grade.
Reportedly earning close to $800,000 this season, he would've run out onto Belmore Road, if he was asked too.
Last year, Eastwood was on a contract worth close to $250,000.
The theme is a frighteningly common one at Canterbury.
Another player - a current first-grader, who isn't a representative player - is earning $650,000 this season. Broken down, he earns $12,500 a week. Yet just last year he was on $250,000.
This insight into the crisis at Canterbury shouldn't be confused for players being greedy - far from it.
Somehow - under a flawed contract system which now leaves the Canterbury salary cap and recruitment team crippled - the majority of the current roster is earning more than what they did the year before. Back-ended contracts, the game calls them.
Let's remember that last year, the Bulldogs finished 11th.
Yet this player's salary was three times less that what he's now being paid.
Effectively, it's an exorbitant pay rise, just for turning up in 2018.
Sadly, for diehard 'Berries' fans, this isn't the worst example, which illustrates how shambolic the club's current salary cap is.
The bundle of back-ended contracts which sits in Canterbury CEO Andrew Hill's top drawer could cripple the family club for the next three years.
That's not scaremongering. It's the truth.
Within Belmore there are genuine fears that if the Dogs can't wrangle themselves from this contract mess, they could become the next Manly - a shambles.
Off the field, the Bulldogs are okay. They boast a rich Leagues Club and huge corporate support, including an international brand in Kia, fronting their jersey.
There's also great hope in the club's young talent - highlighted by their under-20s SG Ball side playing Penrith in Saturday's grand final.
Given the club's predicament, they will never get a better pathway to NRL.
But fans hate waiting for premierships.
And on the field, particularly this season, is where the pain isn't going to go away.
There'll be more heartache - and more losses like Thursday night against Brisbane - to come.
Hamstrung by the decisions made by the previous administration, Bulldogs coach Dean Pay is signed until the end of 2019.
The Canterbury board may as well extend his contract until 2021 - because that's how long the clean-up could take.
Highly-paid stars including Will Hopoate, Moses Mbye, David Klemmer, Kieran Foran, Josh Jackson and Aaron Woods aren't off-contract until between 2020 and 2021.
There's little room left in the shopping trolley because the previous management has over spent the cap by close to $1 million.
Outside of Morris brothers Josh and Brett and Eastwood, the 14 players off-contract at the end this season aren't household names.
So tight is the cap already for 2019, it will be interesting to see who and how, the Bulldogs retain any of the 14, given they've already signed rookie Newcastle half Jack Cogger.
Unless major decisions are made - it's impossible to see how the Bulldogs can afford to purchase a player next season for anything over $100,000.
On the flip side, given Pay's history as a coach of elite juniors, his willingness to play rookie talent is a potential lure for young stars wanting a saloon passage to the NRL.
What the Dogs have going for them is they boast decision-makers who have seen this mess before - and are hellbent on finding light despite the salary cap noose around their neck.
In the early 2000s, Hill worked as general manager of the crisis-riddled Eels for 10-years.
Board member Chris Anderson is a former Australian coach and player.
Those whoever played under him, will always say, that 'Opes'' greatest strength was his ability to absorb pressure from the team, when faced with adversity.
Pay is a former coach of elite juniors with NSW.
He's spoken publicly before about a willingness to promote rookie talent where other coaches wouldn't dare - which is now a potential lure for young stars wanting a saloon passage to the NRL.
The former Bulldogs forward has also played the game at the highest level and has never run from a battle.
However, the cap crisis at Canterbury has nothing to do with X's and O's.
It's all about dollars and cents.