Kurri Kurri captain-coach Mitch Cullen is confident the Bulldogs’ “big three” will make a huge difference to the first grade side’s premiership aspirations in 2021.
The Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) club has signed former NRL stars Frank-Paul Nu’uausala, Tyler Randell and Knights favourite Nathan Ross in a bid to wrestle the title from the defending champions, Cessnock Goannas.
Wrecking ball Nu’uausala boasts more than 230 appearances for the Sydney Roosters, Canberra Raiders and Wigan Warriors, winning a title with the Trent Robinson outfit in 2013.
Scone-born Randell spent time with Newcastle (2014-17) and Wakefield Trinity (2017-19), amassing a total of 88 matches.
The “Ross Dog”, as he was affectionately known, snared 23 tries during a 60-game career with the Knights.
“With those three guys now on board, we’ve got a good mix of youth and experience in the squad,” Cullen said.
“They’ve played at the higher level, so I’m hoping they’ll help us close out the back end of matches.
“We need to find a way to win; we’re not here to come second.
“And, I feel we have the players to do that.”
Even though the Bulldogs withdrew from the COVID-19 affected Real NRL competition in 2020, Cullen admitted it wasn’t all doom and gloom.
“We started the season alright; and the boys put in a lot of hard work,” he said.
“In fact, we kept preparing until we were told they’d be no footy.
“Then, when the Real NRL decided to go ahead, but as an amateur format, the blokes took advantage of the break, spending more time with their families or at work.
“As for me, I ended up playing with my good mate Jackson Jeffrey (third grade coach) in reserves.
“That’s something we hadn’t done [together] for a while.
“It was a bit of fun; and I really enjoyed it.
“So, it wasn’t a waste of time from a personal point of view.”
Cullen also saw a number of positives, which could benefit the Bulldogs in the long run.
“About five first graders ended up playing as well, which was great,” he said.
“Plus, the under-19s went ahead, too.
“And, there were a couple of youngsters I was impressed with.
“The opportunity opened a few doors, which might not have been there in a normal season.
“However, the main thing is they kept playing.”
With Central Coast powerhouses The Entrance and Wyong joining the Real NRL this year, finals spots will be extremely hard to obtain.
But, Cullen has set the bar high for Kurri Kurri.
“Our goal is top three,” he said.
“I’d be disappointed if we missed the semis altogether, especially with the squad we’ve got.
“We have a bit of depth at our disposal this season.
“The firsts and reserves will be strong, while the thirds are always among the best teams.
“As for The Entrance and Wyong, they’re consistently formidable.
“However, I believe they should field sides in all grades like the other Newcastle-based clubs.
“So, I’m guessing they’ll boast two fairly strong outfits.
“This year, there will be no easy games.
“The Maitland Pickers and Wests are usually very competitive.
“Then you have Cessnock and South Newcastle, who contested the 2020 grand final.
“Central Charlestown, on paper, might also be a surprise packet.
“Hopefully, we’ll play in front of a packed out stadium [at home] every week, due to the high standard of the competition.”