Cameron Ciraldo has opened up on why he elected to takeover at Canterbury despite not being “desperate” to transition into becoming a head coach.
“I wasn’t in a rush,” he said when appearing on The Bye Round Podcast with James Graham. “I felt like I had the best job ever being at Penrith and having the relationships I built with some of those players over 10 years, I definitely wasn’t in a rush to move on.”
Why did Cameron Ciraldo turn down the Wests Tigers?
Ciraldo became one of the most sought-after men in rugby league during 2022, with the former Panthers assistant often labelled as the chief architect behind their rugged defence, which helped them power their opponents into submission on their way to back-to-back premierships.
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Ivan Cleary declared him a “head coach in waiting”, while a number of struggling outfits pinned their hopes on him being able to transfer some of those Penrith ethos into reversing their fortunes.
However, the 38-year-old noted that although he was flattered by some club’s pursuit of his signature, initially he was unsure on whether a move would be right for him.
“I wasn’t desperate to be a head coach,” he said. “But if opportunities arose, I was always keen to talk.
“It felt like every time I talked to someone new, I learnt something or challenged my own thinking on what my future was going to look like.
“Eventually, speaking to the Dogs – we had a lot of conversations – it just became clearer to me with every meeting that my personality fit the club and the club fit with what I wanted to do.”
Ciraldo admitted he’d always been enamoured with Canterbury and the opportunity to lead them into a new era proved too enticing to turn down.
“Belmore is a real community club,” he said.
“The foundations it has been built on appealed to me. I was always envious as a player looking outside in at the Bulldogs.
“But it was more about the future and what I thought I could create there and where I thought the club was going, which was the biggest appeal.”
Canterbury haven’t tasted premiership success in 18 years and have instead been stuck in the doldrums having collected two wooden spoons in that time while narrowly avoiding three other bottom-of-the-ladder finishes by the skin of their teeth.
An impressive recruitment drive has sought to banish those memories with Josh Addo-Carr and Matt Burton revitalising the club.
The World Cup-winning duo will be joined in 2023 by Viliame Kikau, Reed Mahoney and Ryan Sutton as the Dogs continue to bolster their side.
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Kikau and Mahoney – the two grand final combatants – in particular, have raised expectations around Belmore. As has the capture of Ciraldo, who was on the wish list for plenty of other clubs in the past.
In fact, the Dogs were locked in a battle with the Wests Tigers for his services, with the rookie coach claiming to be impressed by the joint venture during his discussions with them.
“I had a chat with the Tigers, and it was all really respectful and done in the right way,” Ciraldo said.
“I was a Tigers fan growing up…I actually probably live closer to Campbelltown than I do anywhere else at the moment.
“The Tigers are going in the right direction and were really impressive in our discussions and I was really grateful and humbled that they wanted to talk to me, but it didn’t work out for one way or another – it just didn’t feel right.”
How did Phil Gould persuade Ciraldo to join the Dogs?
The man who was ultimately responsible for luring Ciraldo to the Dogs was Phil Gould, with the two enjoying a long-standing friendship over the past decade.
It was the Bulldogs’ general manager who actually offered him his first job as a coach.
“He was very influential,” Ciraldo said when highlighting the role Gould played in getting him to depart from Penrith.
“I know how Gus works and what he is able to create. I know how much he can help someone as a young coach.
“Everything I’ve heard and learnt about head coaching is there is so much more than just coaching the NRL team. There is recruitment, pathways, sponsorships and all these different things.
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“I’m not naïve enough to think I can go in somewhere and do it all straight away. I felt like I needed someone like Gus. The more I spoke to him the more I realised this was going to be the right opportunity.”
Upon confirming his arrival to Belmore, Gould spoke glowingly of Ciraldo and the work he had done with the Panthers, citing how his close bond with Cleary had granted him more power than usual for someone in his position.
“This is the next step in his coaching career, and I believe he will be a career coach,” Gould said.
“He’s been an integral part of the club’s success. He has done probably a better apprenticeship than most coaches that come into this role.
“He has been very close to the head coach out there in Ivan Cleary for a number of years. He’s been in and around this a lot closer than a lot of assistant coaches get during their tenure.”
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Ciraldo has only been in the hot seat for just over a month but is already happy with the work that has gone on behind-the-scenes in setting his vision into reality.
Gould has taken a hands-on approach in peripheral tasks, while also allowing for the rookie coach to establish his own systems.
“He’s been instrumental in helping us set up what we’ve wanted to set up over the last couple of months,” Ciraldo said.
“He’s built development pathways before and built clubs before, so it’s exciting times.”
However, that excitement has been dampened in some quarters with the belief that Gould is a notoriously difficult man to please and may be the cause of Ciraldo running into some roadblocks during his tenure.
Ciraldo argued this simply wouldn’t be the case after the pair have cultivated a working relationship that has withstood the test of time.
“We’ve known each other for 11 years now and we definitely haven’t agreed with everything in those 11 years,” he said.
“We’re not going to agree with everything moving forward. But we do have a relationship where we can have those open discussions and have differences of opinion but commit to what we’re doing moving forward.”