Canterbury played their first season in 1935 and with 8 Premierships have amassed a rich history, filled with great players and even greater characters.
Picking players across eras is never an exact science. An author can do all of the research in the world and still never be 100% sure about the selections put forward. Sure, there are some certainties for every team of this nature, but let this not end the debate; let it start one.
The main criteria is that each player has been selected on the strength of their performances for the club in question (not representative football and not for other clubs). They may have only been at the club for a short time, but if they’ve made The Best 17 Ever, it’s because of the undeniable quality that they produced during that time.
So let the debate begin!
1. Les Johns (1963-1971)
In a golden age of fullbacks, Les Johns was able to stand out as a top performer and play 14 times for Australia in an era when Keith Barnes and Graeme Langlands were both playing Fullback. Known for being an impressive defender and goalkicker, Johns’ career was cut short by chronic knee injuries.
2. Chris Anderson (1971-1984)
Historically, Canterbury were a side that struggled to score points (until the late 70s their leading try scorer was a Prop). The recruitment of Anderson changed that, with his knack for finding the tryline leading to a new era of brilliance during the 1980s, where the Bulldogs were one of the elite clubs.
3. Josh Morris (2009-Current)
The Bulldogs are a club built around tenacious individuals and Josh Morris fits right in alongside the greats. With his size and speed, he’s also an excellent attacking weapon; but so strong is his defence that he has often been drafted into representative teams out of position just to nullify their attacking threats (namely, Greg Inglis).
4. Chris Mortimer (1978-1987)
In an era of wonderful centres (Michael Cronin, Mal Meninga, Gene Miles), Mortimer was renowned for being one of the toughest, particularly in defence. The youngest of three brothers to play First Grade for the Bulldogs, Chris won 3 Premierships during his time at the Bulldogs.
5. Hazem El Masri (1996-2009)
If the greatest players were decided by the amount of points they have scored, then ‘El Magic’ would be the greatest. Mostly known as perhaps the greatest goalkicker the world has seen, El Masri had underrated defensive prowess and a keen ability to find the tryline (159 times to be exact). Not only the greatest point scorer, but arguably the Bulldogs’ greatest ever winger as well.
6. Terry Lamb (1984-1996)
This is possibly hyperbolic, so loved is Lamb, but he may just be the greatest Bulldog of them all. Known for his leadership, support play and his ‘sorry, not sorry’ retirement in 1995, only to play one more season after winning the Premiership, Lamb’s masterful recruitment from the Wests Magpies triggered the Bulldogs’ most successful era.
7. Steve Mortimer (Captain) (1976-1988)
Who can forget that wonderful image of Mortimer, pure passion, and unbridled joy, fists clenched on his knees after NSW finally beat QLD in the 1985 Origin Series? His leadership and ability to control a game make him the ideal man to slot in at number 7 for the Bulldogs; he epitomizes their values to this day.
8. Steve Price (1994-2004)
Injury robbed Price of his crowning moment, which would have been captaining his beloved Doggies to the 2004 Grand Final, but not before he had built a reputation as one of Canterbury’s greatest forwards. Known for his likable personality and his tireless work ethic, Price would be the man putting the kick pressure on the opponents in this side!
9. George Peponis (1974-1982)
A leader of men, a weapon out of dummy half from close range and a master of the contested scrum; Peponis regularly featured for NSW and Australia in a time where there were many great options at hooker.
10. Eddie Burns (1935-1950)
One of the inaugural ‘Berries’, Eddie Burns played the game tough but also sported surprising athleticism, crossing for 60 tries in his career (a club record until it was broken by Chris Anderson in 1978!).
11. David Gillespie (1984-1990)
His nickname, ‘Cement’, tells you everything you need to know about David Gillespie; he was one tough customer. Legend has it that if a ball carrier had absolutely no side-stepping ability whatsoever, he would quickly discover that he could move like Benji Marshall just to avoid the shoulders of Gillespie.
12. Steve Folkes (1978-1989 & 1991)
A club stalwart and local junior, Steve Folkes is a 4 time Premiership winner, known for his steely defence and industrious nature. Folkes is also well-known for coaching the Bulldogs to a Premiership in 2004. He was, simply put, a winner.
13. Andrew Ryan (2002-2011)
Andrew Ryan’s captaincy debut was in rather strange circumstances, leading the Bulldogs to Grand Final victory in 2004 with Steve Price out injured. Andrew Ryan’s work rate and experience were invaluable on that day, as they were for the rest of his wonderful career, where he represented Australia 11 times and NSW 12.
14. Michael Potter (1983-1988)
Now a coach, for a time he was the most exciting young Fullback in the game. In his first full season of First Grade (1984), Potter claimed the Dally M award and was a key member of the Bulldogs side that won back to back competitions in 1984 and 1985. After that, leg injuries dampened the remainder of his time at the Bulldogs, but for a time there wasn’t a more damaging player in the competition.
15. Dean Pay (1989-1995)
The new Bulldogs coach was a fine player in his day, alternating between the backrow and front row with ease to be an important cog in the Bulldogs machine, which eventually won the competition in 1995. As the Bulldogs joined Super League, Pay decided to join the Eels, bringing his Bulldogs career to a premature end.
16. James Graham (2012-2017)
It’s no fluke that James Graham’s arrival at Belmore coincided with the Bulldogs making Grand Finals again (2012 and 2014). Graham is one of the greatest ever English imports; tough, skilful, industrious and inspirational. He’ll be a big loss for the club in 2018.
17. Peter Tunks (1984-1989)
Winner of 3 Premierships and twice voted the best Prop on the planet, Tunks was an uncompromising middle player with a lot of heart, who played 6 Tests for Australia and 9 Origins for NSW.
And that’s the team, not too bad, huh? How would they go against other teams named in this series? Could the Dogs of War out-muscle some of the glamour clubs? And who did we miss? Let us know in the comments below and stay tuned for the Best 17 Ever for all of the other clubs.