Why five years is the perfect contract term for both Ciraldo and Canterbury

After months of speculation, the Bulldogs have finally landed their man, with the highly touted assistant coach swapping the foot of the mountains for Belmore on a five-year deal.

For some time, there has been no doubt about Ciraldo’s ability as a head coach. He may just be the most popular, most spoken about assistant coach in rugby league history, and for that reason his graduation to the top job has felt more like a matter of when, not if.

As the second-in-charge out at Penrith he has worked under two coaches – Anthony Griffin and Ivan Cleary – serving as part of the Panthers’ premiership-winning side in 2021 with the latter – which leaves no doubts about his credentials.

“He’s definitely ready for this shot, he’s done his time,” were Cleary’s words a few months ago when Ciraldo was linked with both his new employers and the Wests Tigers.

But, having rejected Tim Sheens five-year offering, it was the same five-year term that drew him into Gus Gould’s Canterbury project.

Much has been made of the contract length, an unprecedented level of trust being placed in a coach who has spent very minimal time in the top job. For comparison, Craig Fitzgibbon – the most assistant graduate from assistant to top dog – signed a three-year deal with Cronulla this year.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 18: Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon watches on during the warm-up before the round 15 NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Gold Coast Titans at , on June 18, 2022, in Coffs Harbour, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Andrew Voss aired his scepticism for such a long-term deal on radio, saying he thinks it’s “too much.”

And that may be fair enough. Ciraldo, with a dearth of head coaching experiencing, graduating into a cutthroat environment as the Bulldogs, who have lacked any success for the best part of a decade, it’s a gamble.

It’s a gamble worth taking in my eyes.

What you have now is the youngest coach in first grade, a general manager in Phil Gould who knows the club inside-and-out and has the backing and trust of just about every Bulldogs fan going, and an incredibly young and high-potential side.

Against the Warriors, Mick Potter’s side had an average age of 24.5 years – only club captain Josh Jackson and the departing Paul Vaughan were over 30 (both aged 31). And that is without Tevita Pangai-Junior, who is 26, and confirmed new arrivals for next season – 24-year-old Reed Mahoney and 27-year-old Viliame Kikau.

Five years for someone without experience at a club as cutthroat as the Bulldogs, where fans have been starved of success for many years now, it could prove to be a huge mistake for the Dogs.

The idea is clear. Give a young, promising and highly gifted coach a young, impressionable, and highly-gifted side and invest in both growing simultaneously and see what can happen. At best, the Bulldogs can build on the foundation laid by their end-of-season results, improving with their new coach and new signings and pushing for a first finals since 2016.

A long-term deal provides Ciraldo with the confidence that he has the support and backing of the club in his pursuit of returning Canterbury to the summit. And he certainly has the crop of players to fulfil this potential.

The Bulldogs’ statement announcing their new coach alludes to as much.

“As the club continues to build for long-term, sustained success, we are pleased Cameron shares the vision of ensuring out football programs as best-in class,” the statement read.

In addition to providing assurances to the coach, the five-year deal also provides guarantees to players both current and present. Prospective players looking at Belmore as a potential new home will see a long-term project is in place, see security in coach and playstyle, which makes it a massively attractive option.

Perhaps more importantly, Ciraldo has a crucial relationship with the Bulldogs talisman, Matt Burton, whose contract includes a player option for a third year that has yet to be exercised.

Ciraldo’s connection to Burton should play in the Bulldogs favour as they attempt to re-sign the most talented player to walk through their doors since Ben Barba.

Despite the risk surrounding their new coaches contract length, history suggests whenever Gus Gould hands out a five-year deal, as he did with Ivan Cleary in 2019, prosperity follows.

Only time will tell if the fruits of his gamble pay off, but all the early signs are positive.

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