Raymond Faitala-Mariner has opened up on his Bulldogs exit, revealing the decision was entirely his.
After months of speculation over his future, Faitala-Mariner was released from the final two years of his contract with the Bulldogs in late January to sign a two-year deal with the Dragons.
The 30-year-old toldThe Sydney Morning Herald that he was not forced out of the Bulldogs, he just needed a change of scenery.
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“They weren’t pushing me out the door at all,” Faitala-Mariner said.
“It was just this opportunity that arose. I thought about it, spoke to my partner, to my family and parents, (and) they said maybe a change was what I needed. I took their advice and I’m glad I did.
“Now that I was in camp with the Dragons this week, I can see why the change was needed.”
The move came after tumultuous six months with the Bulldogs. Faitala-Mariner, who was appointed club captain at the start of last season, found himself on the outer after challenging coach Cameron Ciraldo on behalf of some of his teammates.
Several Polynesian players reportedly approached Faitala-Mariner with their concerns about the club’s culture and training regime. He relayed those concerns to club staff only for Ciraldo to double down on his expectations.
There was also talk that Faitala-Mariner — predominantly a second-rower — was not happy with having to fill in at prop.
He was granted permission by the Bulldogs in September to negotiate with rivals before it was reported in November that he was told to stay away from pre-season training.
After a meeting with general manager of football Phil Gould, Faitala-Mariner returned to training later that month.
Faitala-Mariner told the Herald that his initial absence from training was “just a miscommunication” and that he always had open communication with Ciraldo and Gould.
“(Reports were) saying they didn’t want me there, but every time something came out in the media, I’ve always had a conversation with Ciraldo and Gus. They always confirmed with me that it wasn’t true,” he said.
“I don’t know where it came from. Whenever things were out in the media saying they were shopping me around and whatnot, I would always go to the coach, and Gus would be there at times, and they gave me their word, they said it wasn’t true and didn’t know where it was coming from.
“I took their word for it and that was that. There was nothing more or less, we just carried on with training.
“Going through the tough times has prepared me for this year. It’s made me more resilient, more prepared for whatever comes my way. Nothing can break me.”
Faitala-Mariner first joined the Bulldogs in mid-2016 from the Warriors and went on to play 102 games for the club over seven-and-a-half seasons.
2020 was his best year in blue and white with him being awarded the Coaches Award after playing every game of the season. But after that he had a horror run with injury.
Faitala-Mariner only managed two games in 2021, 13 games in 2022 and 14 games in 2023 with a hamstring injury and pneumonia cruelling him in the latter.
His exit means no player from the 2021 squad is still at the club after several clean-outs.
When prompted on that he said: “I’ve heard that a few times and the boys text me saying, ‘You’re gone! You were the last man standing!’”
But he has no ill feeling towards the club he was so passionate about.
“That’s footy,” Faitala-Mariner said.
“The club has a vision and they have to do what they need to do to get what they want. If that’s the direction they’re going in, then I’m all for it. I’ve got nothing but respect and love for that club.
“Where I am at in my career, a change was needed for me to hopefully take my game to the next level.
“It does sadden me to leave the club that I really love; Belmore is my second home. It was very hard to say goodbye and leave, but I have to look at the opportunity for myself and my future.
“That’s what I did, I put myself and my family first.
“One thing I do wish we had when I was there is a bit of success. Hopefully, they do well this year and in the years to come.
“From the summer I had there, it seems to be heading in that direction. Cameron Ciraldo is doing a good job at the joint, culture wise, and the standard he is setting, it’s very elite.
“There’s no malice towards the club from my end.”
Faitala-Mariner is relishing the club switch and declared he can get back to the form that earnt him a New Zealand jersey in 2015 and 2016.
He is also loving the coaching of Shane Flanagan, who has filled him with “a lot of confidence” already.
“Being just in camp with the Dragons for a week has ignited something in me. Being in a place for so long, sometimes you can get comfortable.
“The change was needed for me. Now I’ve stepped out of my home, so to speak, and am out there testing the waters and being exposed and vulnerable, it’s something I needed.
“Being around a place I’m not so familiar with is bringing the best out of me. Being under Shane Flanagan, an experienced premiership-winning coach, with the conversations we’ve already had, gives me a lot of confidence.
“He’s making me feel a priority and when you make a player feel that way, he tells you to jump and you say how high. I would run through a brick wall for a coach like that.”
Originally published as ‘No malice’: Ex-Bulldogs captain silences exit rumour