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The ones who got away: Canterbury Bulldogs

Club loyalty ain’t what it used to be, and now the salary cap, useless contracts and the lure of the dollar means that players change clubs on a regular basis.

Sometimes fans are happy to see a player go, like Morgan Harper and Moses Mbye, but losing a top player when they’re in their prime is no fun at all, particularly when you see that player lining up for the opposition in the following season.

In this, the sixth article in the series, I’ll pick a team of the best players that got away from the Bulldogs since 2000.

The only criteria are that the player named must have made his debut for the Dogs, left the club after 2000, and then played with another NRL club, rather than just retired or headed to the ESL, which after all is basically the same thing.

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(Details in brackets are the year the player debuted for the Bulldogs and the number of games played for the club.)

1. Ben Barba (2008, 97 games)

A mercurial talent and prolific try scorer, Barba looked to have the rugby league world at his feet until discipline issues and injuries saw him ask for a release in 2013 so that he could join the Broncos in 2014.

What followed was one season in Brisbane and a couple, including a premiership, at Cronulla, but the self-destruct button had already been firmly pressed by the time he departed the Dogs.

2. Corey Thompson (2014, 35 games)

A talented winger who had a great debut season before departing for the ESL two years later. Thankfully now back in the NRL and the Dogs should have hung on to him.

3. Reimis Smith (2016, 49 games)

He picked a bad time to become a Canterbury first grader, as they struggled for success, and already looks to be a better player since joining the Storm in 2021.

4. Ben Harris (2002, 42 games)

He made his first grade debut at 18 and then won a premiership at age 21 in 2004, but injuries and a drop in form saw play just two games for the Dogs in 2005. It was no surprise to see him head to the ESL for a couple of years before returning to finish his career at the Cowboys.

5. Matt Utai (2002, 127 games)

Utai was built like a brick outhouse, and represented both New Zealand and Samoa during his stint at Belmore. He left the Dogs at the end of 2009 with his best years behind him, and finished up at the Tigers.

6. Braith Anasta (2000, 110 games)

Anasta was a Dogs boy wonder and won a premiership with them in 2004. When his contract expired at Belmore two years later, the Rosters outbid Souths for his services. One who got away from the kennel, I’m afraid.

7. Johnathan Thurston (2002, 29 games)

The less said about this near Bulldogs supporters, the better. Thurston wasn’t wanted at the end of 2004, but went on to become one of the greats of the games, notching up 38 Test matches, 37 Origins for QLD, won four Dally Ms, four Golden Boot awards, etc.

Who let this Dog out?

8. David Klemmer (2013, 113 games)

Klemmer was at the top of his game during his time at the Dogs, and was firmly entrenched in both the Australian and NSW teams.

David Klemmer passes the ball

David Klemmer passes the ball (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

After requesting a release from Canterbury at the end of 2018, he joined the Knights the following year on a big dollar contract, but has since become just another plodder and hasn’t been sighted in a rep jumper since 2019. I think Dave opted for Newcastle’s transition to retirement scheme.

9. Josh Reynolds (2011, 138 games)

Reynolds was a Bulldog through and through and they played finals football for most of the time he was there. He left to join the Tigers for the money in 2018, and neither he nor the club have been the same since. One who got away.

10. Roy Asotasi (2002, 84 games)

He barely missed a game in his last three years with the club and was a big part of their premiership success in 2004. He was a regular in the NZ Test team during his time with the Dogs and was a big loss when he left to join Souths in 2007.

11. Willie Mason (2000, 148 games)

A big unit who terrorised the opposition, whether it be for Canterbury, NSW or Australia. Mason fell out of love with the Bulldogs towards the end of 2007 and was snapped up by Nick Politis’s Roosters in 2008. No real loss for the Dogs, given Mason’s issues with discipline.

12. Nate Myles (2005, 40 games)

Myles had just played the first of his 32 Origins for Queensland when he was signed by the Roosters for the 2007 season. He was just the style of player the Bulldogs always preferred, and one they should have hung on to.

13. Dale Finucane (2012, 66 games)

Finucane spent most of his time at the Bulldogs as a bench player, but all that would change when he joined the Storm in 2015 where he became one of the first players picked each week and won two premierships.

Gee, that’s a pretty impressive list of players that escaped the Dogs. The pack of forwards alone would make a Canterbury fan weep, and best not to mention the departures of Thurston, Barba and Anasta.

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