NRL 2022: Best coaching candidates for Bulldogs, Wests Tigers and NZ Warriors

The Bulldogs, Tigers and Warriors are in need of a head coach, but which one suits their needs? Cameron Ciraldo is the top target and his call could decide the future of an exciting playmaker.

Cameron Ciraldo’s decision on his coaching future will not only impact the fortunes of three clubs, it could also decide exciting playmaker Matt Burton’s long-term future.

The Bulldogs have already started negotiations with one of their biggest stars despite Burton being contracted until the end of next season.

He has an option his way for 2024 but will not take that up given he is due a hefty payday from the $500,000 contract he signed to join the Bulldogs.

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Ciraldo has been courted by the Tigers and Canterbury – who face off on the field on Sunday. The Panthers assistant coach has spoken with both clubs, and one of the keenest observers in his future is Bulldogs five-eighth Burton.

Canterbury’s chances of retaining Burton long-term would be lifted significantly if Ciraldo opts for Belmore, given their close link at the Panthers.

Matt Burton’s future at the Bulldogs could hinge on who secures the coaching job at the club. Picture: NRL Photos
Matt Burton’s future at the Bulldogs could hinge on who secures the coaching job at the club. Picture: NRL Photos

Alternatively, if Ciraldo joins the Tigers, that could open the door for Burton to follow him.

The Storm are also expected to put Burton at the top of their wish list should Cameron Munster move on at the end of next season.

News Corp has conducted an investigation into the health status of Wests Tigers, Bulldogs and Warriors.

The analysis has revealed who, from the hottest coaches on the open market, including former premiership winner Shane Flanagan, Tonga and St Helens coach Kristian Woolf and Ciraldo, are best suited at each club.

The Tigers are prepared to offer an unprecedented five-year deal for a rookie coach to attract Ciraldo. They have made it clear that he is their first preference and will not speak with other potential coaches until they have a decision.

The likes of ex-Tigers Todd Payten, John Morris and Brett Hodgson could come into the mix.

The Panthers have indicated they want him to remain as Ivan Cleary’s assistant.

He has already ruled himself out of pursuing the Warriors job, with Woolf expected to be offered that role. It remains unclear if Woolf will take on that job or link with the Dolphins as Wayne Bennett’s assistant coach before taking over that job full-time.

While the likes of Ciraldo and Flanagan have rejected any interest in crossing to New Zealand, ex-Warriors coach Nathan Brown said the job has the potential to be among the best in the NRL.

Rugby league is struggling in New Zealand, given the Warriors’ long-term absence from the region, but Brown is confident the plans the club has development into a premiership force.

Panthers assistant coach Cameron Ciraldo is the top target for the Bulldogs and Tigers. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Panthers assistant coach Cameron Ciraldo is the top target for the Bulldogs and Tigers. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

“They put some stuff in place before I got there which was outstanding,” Brown said. “Covid interrupted a few of those things, like having an SG Ball side.

“What they are trying to do is really good. Once Covid comes to an end, that will make the coach’s job easy.

“Brian Smith, Peter O’Sullivan, Phil Gould and Stephen Kearney started getting things set up properly. They had a nice academy going and had people in good positions to run it.

“The Warriors haven’t been there to get value out of it but that’s why I’m confident the Warriors future is bright because I know what they are trying to do.”

WESTS TIGERS

2023 signings: Api Koroisau, Isaiah Papali’i.

2023 spine rating: B

Koroisau adds experience and smarts to a spine that already boasts Daine Laurie and Luke Brooks, as well as either Adam Doueihi or Jackson Hastings.

Contract length of biggest names

Luke Brooks (2023), Adam Doueihi (2023), Jackson Hastings (2023), David Nofoaluma (2025), Stefano Utoikamanu (2025).

2023 roster strengths

Makings of a decent spine once Koroisau arrives. The Penrith rake will add some much-needed craft and class, helping take the heat off their halves. Papali’i could be one of the signings of the season.

Api Koroisau will be a big addition for the Tigers next season. Picture: Robb Cox/NRL Photos
Api Koroisau will be a big addition for the Tigers next season. Picture: Robb Cox/NRL Photos

2023 roster weaknesses

They lack depth in the back row and class in the outside backs. A lot will hinge on how Tommy Talau comes back from knee surgery and whether they can sign some back-rowers to bridge the gap until their young stars come through.

Potential stars in State of Origin

Five – Adam Doueihi, Luke Brooks, Joe Ofahengaue, Stefano Utoikamanu, Api Koroisau.

Junior pathways rating: B+

The Tigers under-16 side got beaten in the last seven seconds of the grand final. Their Wests under 17s won the grand final and went undefeated. Balmain’s under-19s made the semis and their under-21 squad is in the top five with a game in hand. The pick of the bunch looks like Justin Matamua, a lock who captained Wests’ SG Ball side and was selected in the NSW under-19 side.

Who’s the boss?

Head of football Tim Sheens would be a dream for any young coach. Few know as much about the game, nor love it as much as the wily Sheens. He would be a sage sounding board for an incoming coach.

Home stadium and training facilities rating: C

The club is on the verge of unveiling a Centre of Excellence that will be as good, if not better, than any training facility in the NRL. In terms of home games, the club has used six venues this season but there is an internal push to scrap playing games at Accor and CommBank Stadiums and play out of only Leichhardt Oval and Campbelltown Stadium next season. If that is to happen, they could be upgraded to an A.

Which coach is best suited?

CAMERON CIRALDO

The Penrith assistant is the most coveted coach on the market and the Tigers want him. Has a reputation for developing players and the Tigers believe they have a crop of young stars coming through.

Cameron Ciraldo would be a good fit at the Tigers. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images
Cameron Ciraldo would be a good fit at the Tigers. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

BULLDOGS

2023 signings: Reed Mahoney (Eels), Ryan Sutton (Raiders), Viliame Kikau (Panthers).

2023 spine rating: C

Matt Burton is a star at five-eighth and Reed Mahoney arrives in 2023 to play hooker. Kyle Flanagan remains on contract for 2023 and will remain halfback, while the fullback spot is an issue following the use of Matt Dufty and Jake Averillo throughout this year.

Contract length of biggest names

Viliame Kikau (2026), Josh Addo-Carr (2025), Reed Mahoney (2025), Tevita Pangai Junior (2024), Matt Burton (2023), Josh Jackson (2023), Luke Thompson (2023).

2023 roster strengths: Without doubt Matt Burton and the arrival of Viliame Kikau next year. Burton has an option in his contract that allows him to leave at the end of 2023, which is a major concern and reason why the appointment of a coach who the young star wants to play under is critical.

2023 roster weaknesses

The No.1 jersey. The strongest sides boast an elite fullback. Matt Dufty is leaving the club and while Jake Averillo is a good footballer, he isn’t elite.

Potential stars in State of Origin

Four – Matt Burton, Josh Addo-Carr, Reed Mahoney, Tevita Pangai Jr.

Eels hooker Reed Mahoney will join the Bulldogs next season. Picture: Mark Nolan/Getty Images
Eels hooker Reed Mahoney will join the Bulldogs next season. Picture: Mark Nolan/Getty Images

Junior Pathways rating: C

Junior development is an area the club has neglected in the past, but claim they are focused on fixing. The Bulldogs’ SG Ball side finished fourth this season and fell one game short of a grand final berth. The Bulldogs’ Harold Matthews side finished 13th of 15th. 2022 Bulldogs SG Ball Player of the Year Joash Papalii is the pick of the bunch.

Who’s the boss?

Not the next coach that comes in. That’s an issue for the Bulldogs, with several coaches unwilling to run the gauntlet of working with the chameleon GM of football Phil Gould. The Canterbury club are showing unprecedented faith in Gould, a shift from their past, which always prided itself on being empowered by their unity and an unspoken belief that together, they are smarter than the rest. Also, given their long history of fracture at board level, it’s impossible to consider turmoil is never far away.

Home stadium and training facilities rating: C

Edging closer towards funding for the build of an elite training facility for their juniors at Belmore Sports Ground. But that won’t change their nomadic existence of splitting their 12 home games out of Accor Stadium, CommBank Stadium and Belmore. The team trains out of a well-resourced gym inside Belmore.

Which coach is best suited to Canterbury?

SHANE FLANAGAN

A local junior who knows how to build a premiership-winning roster from within. Boasts a defensive coaching style, which would suit the “Bulldog Way” and more importantly has a relationship with Gould dating back 20 years.

Shane Flanagan ticks plenty of boxes for the Bulldogs. Picture: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images
Shane Flanagan ticks plenty of boxes for the Bulldogs. Picture: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

NZ WARRIORS

2023 signings: Mitch Barnett (Knights), Luke Metcalf (Sharks), Marata Niukore (Eels), Dylan Walker (Sea Eagles).

2023 spine rating: D

Reece Walsh is at the forefront of the Warriors’ attack but he will lead an experienced spine. They hope incoming Luke Metcalf and emerging player Ronald Volkman can lead them around the park. Shaun Johnson is unlikely to be at the club next year. The reliable Wayde Egan will be hooker but they will need to find some cover for him.

Contract length of biggest names

Rocco Berry (2024), Josh Curran (2024), Wayde Egan (2024), Addin Fonua-Blake (2026), Tohu Harris (2024), Reece Walsh (2024 PO)

2023 roster strengths

They still have an imposing forward pack led by Addin Fonua-Blake and Tohu Harris. The additions of Marata Niukore and Mitch Barnett will be imposing. Josh Curran is one of the game’s most improved players. The Warriors have two of the best young centres in the game in Rocco Berry and Viliami Vailea, but they are still learning what it takes to be NRL players.

2023 roster weaknesses

Their halves. They will go into the season with two untried players. Need to add a senior player into the mix if Shaun Johnson is not at the club to at least help guide Luke Metcalf and Ronald Volkman.

Marata Niukore will bolster the Warriors’ pack next season. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Marata Niukore will bolster the Warriors’ pack next season. Picture: Jonathan Ng

Potential stars in State of Origin

Two – Reece Walsh and Josh Curran.

Junior pathways rating: C

It’s through no fault of their own, but the Warriors’ plans were hit hard by Covid-19. They had to withdraw from the SG Ball competition, which would have given their best players a chance at playing against the brightest prospects in the game. It remains to be seen what sort of impact the Warriors’ time away will have on participation and development. Former Kiwis hardman Tony Iro is in charge of the club’s pathways system.

Who’s the boss?

Owner Mark Robinson is clearly the No.1 person at the Warriors. He fell out with prop Matt Lodge, which led to a hefty payout that hurts the club’s salary cap next season. Raised eyebrows with his scathing assessment on coaching prospect Michael Maguire. Known to be passionate about turning the club around, but it just remains to be seen if he is the man to help lead them.

Home stadium and training facilities rating: D

Mt Smart Stadium is one of the poorer venues in the NRL and is in desperate need of a major renovation. They are pushing for their entire fixture next season to be played out of New Zealand.

Kristian Woolf is the Warriors’ main target. Picture: Lewis Storey/Getty Images
Kristian Woolf is the Warriors’ main target. Picture: Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Which coach is best suited?

KRISTIAN WOOLF

He’s the man the Warriors want and they are prepared to offer him the job. Has experience and tasted success in the Super League, but he’s also developed a great relationship with some of the game’s best Pasifika players during his time as Tongan coach.

Originally published as NRL 2022: Best coaching candidates for Bulldogs, Wests Tigers and NZ Warriors

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