Sam Kasiano will be forced to make his comeback in the NSW Cup in what could be a sign Canterbury are looking to squeeze him out of the club.
Kasiano is yet to play this year after undergoing ankle surgery but is now fully fit and available for selection this weekend. But rather than rejoining the NRL side, the New Zealand international will play in the curtain-raiser at Sportingbet Stadium on Saturday.
However, Bulldogs coach Des Hasler has told Kasiano he needs to get some match fitness and has stuck with the first-grade front-row rotation of Aiden Tolman, James Graham, Pat O'Hanlon and David Klemmer, the latter named on an extended bench. It's the first time since 2009 that all three Bulldogs sides – NRL, NSW Cup and NYC – will play at the same ground.
The blue and whites, already blessed with front-row depth, will welcome Cronulla, NSW and Australian prop Andrew Fifita from next year. That acquisition – coupled with the signing of Sharks hooker Michael Lichaa and the recent re-signings of Graham, Josh Morris and Tim Lafai – will put pressure on them to fit everyone under the salary cap. That pressure will mount further if they re-sign co-captain Michael Ennis, who was close to putting pen to paper.
Bulldogs chief executive Raelene Castle said during the week they could re-sign both Morris and Ennis without shedding players, although that was before Lichaa's transfer was confirmed.
Although he is contracted until the end of next year, Kasiano appears the man most likely to shift if the Bulldogs need to squeeze someone out to remain under the salary cap. Several clubs have already made enquiries about him for next year.
Cronulla are looking for a replacement for Fifita and could make a play if he is released as revenge for that poaching. They have money to spend after losing Fifita and Lichaa to Belmore, with the latter dropped after telling his teammates of his decision. Newcastle has also expressed some interest, while Souths could be an option as they look to fill the void Sam Burgess will leave from next year.
The Bulldogs completed 84 per cent of their sets against an understrength Cronulla on Monday night, the best result since Hasler arrived at Belmore in 2012. However, they will face a sterner test against a Penrith side which lost to Melbourne by one point.
Canterbury lock Dale Finucane used a Hasler-ism to describe the form of the Mountain Men.
“I think they’re one team that’s flying under the radar a bit," Finucane said.
"They’re one from two but they’ll be really tough to beat on Saturday. For us, it’s about focusing on ourselves.
“Against the Sharks we found more consistency with our completions, I think that’s what really the game comes down to is completing your sets, so you’ve got more gas in the tank for your attack."