Dean Pay has spoken for the first time of his desire to take over from Des Hasler at Canterbury, declaring "it's a club that's close to my heart".
The Dubbo product, currently an assistant to Ricky Stuart at Canberra, is considered the frontrunner for the vacant job. The former NSW and Australian forward spent five seasons at Belmore as a player, including as a member of the 1995 premiership-winning side.
The 48-year-old has completed a long apprenticeship as an assistant coach, including a stint under Craig Bellamy at Melbourne, and has overseen a successful period for the NSW under-20s in the State of Origin arena.
That has all come about since Pay guided Dubbo CYMS to the 2007 Group 11 title.
Pay, who has been interviewed for the head coaching role at Warrington, believes he is ready to take the step up as a head coach at his former club.
"I'd be interested in it for sure," Pay told Fairfax Media.
"I've done a pretty big apprenticeship, if I'm not ready now I never will be.
"At the end of the day, if I go that way, that's fine. At the moment I haven't heard anything. I spent a lot of time there, at the end of the day it's a club that's close to my heart. If the opportunity comes up. I'd certainly have a discussion about it, that's for sure."
From the moment Steve Mortimer questioned whether Hasler understood the "DNA" at Belmore last October, there has been speculation over the position of the former Manly mentor. The Bulldogs rarely hire outsiders, with predecessors including Kevin Moore, Steve Folkes, Chris Anderson, Phil Gould, Warren Ryan, Ted Glossop, Malcolm Clift and Bob Hagan all playing for the club before coaching it. Pay fits the narrative, having made more than 100 appearances in the blue and white during a distinguished playing career.
Pay believes there is a culture that is unique at the Bulldogs.
"Canterbury is a special club," he said.
"The people that have played there in the past really appreciate the club. It was all set up there right from the beginning with Bullfrog [Peter Moore] and Punchy [Barry] Nelson. It's a wonderful club and you never forget those times."
Hasler took the Bulldogs to two grand finals and five finals appearances at the helm, but his inability to break a premiership drought stretching back to 2004 proved costly.
Despite the cutthroat nature of the industry – Hasler joins Jason Taylor, Michael Maguire and Neil Henry as coaches to have been sacked this year – Pay wants to make the transition to the top job.
"That's the nature of it, it's a results-driven industry," Pay said.
"Des has done a fantastic job over his time there. I just think they're a big club, their fans and supporters look for the results. That's the nature of the beast.
"They've got the nucleus of a good team there, that's for sure. Obviously players move on and new ones come in at each club every year, they are no different there. But they've certainly got the nucleus of a good team."
Pay said his coaching philosophy was a straightforward one. "The main thing is you've got to build on hard work," he said.
Pay said he hadn't heard from anyone at the Bulldogs.
"It's all media speculation. I haven't actually spoken to anyone at Canterbury," he said. "That's where it's at the moment."