It appears to be a matter of when – not if – he gets appointed, although Canterbury were adamant on Wednesday no deal had been struck.
In the meantime, the more pertinent questions are whether Barrett is the right man for the Bulldogs — and are the Bulldogs the right club for Barrett?
Barrett walked out of Manly in late 2018 following an irreparable fallout with club patriarch Bob Fulton. Those who remember those days ask this: if he couldn’t handle the drama at Brookvale how the hell will he handle the vipers’ nest at Belmore?
Barrett learnt some brutal lessons from his three seasons at Manly and they can only help him with the considerable rebuild required at Canterbury.
The first is the importance of managing an entire squad, and not just some players.
When Jackson Hastings fell out with captain Daly Cherry-Evans following a night out in Gladstone, Barrett publicly backed his captain. That was fair enough but it came at the expense of Hastings, who was unfairly managed out of the club from that moment.
Barrett has also learnt about the importance of perception. In rugby league, where narratives are easily manipulated, that’s usually half the battle.
From what I can gather, the line about Barrett regularly drinking alcohol with his players, like he’s “one of the boys”, has been overcooked.
But people like to talk on the northern beaches and the sight of him sharing a quiet midweek beer with his coaching staff at the Harbord Hotel quickly developed into damaging speculation that he was spending more time on the Golden Gatorades than game plans.
The third thing Barrett learnt at Manly was how to work the media. Or, more specifically, how not to.
Frustrated at a lack of resources, amid a souring relationship with Fulton, he agitated for a release from his contract in order to force change. It was Beavis playing hardball, as only he knows how, but it backfired.
Chairman and co-owner Scott Penn lashed out publicly at Barrett, which led to a bizarre News Corp interview with the coach about having to buy garden furniture and lounges for the players’ common area. It was meant to illustrate the club’s amateurism. Instead, it painted the picture of a losing coach shifting the blame.
The thing is Barrett did have legitimate gripes about the way Manly was being run, not least its revolving door of chief executives, football managers and recruitment officers.
It takes a unique individual to coach Manly, and that unique individual is Des Hasler. Barrett was chewed up and spat out of a job he probably shouldn’t have taken in the first place.
The ugly way he left Manly burnt his prospects at other clubs, but he’s found his way back the hard way, as an assistant to Ivan Cleary at Penrith.
There’s no doubting his influence on the Panthers and the way they attack. As per his contract, he won’t leave them mid-season even if he gets the Bulldogs job.
Barrett has always been a great teacher of football. If there was one criticism from Bulldogs players of Pay, it was that they didn’t learn enough from him. That won’t happen under Barrett.
But being a head coach involves so much more than the skills and feel of the game.
Belmore is already a state-of-the-art facility, so he won’t need to buy second-hand furniture off Gumtree.
Rather, he’ll need to surround himself with the right people, something he learnt during a stint with the All Blacks last year.
Expect him to seek out a quality defensive coach and welfare manager while also entrusting senior players to help lead his team. At Manly, Barrett tried to shoulder too much and his coaching suffered.
Perhaps his greatest task, though, isn’t so much surrounding himself with the right people but dealing with some of the personalities who are already there.
Pay was eaten up by the politics at Canterbury, which has a divided football club board, a trouble-making Leagues Club faction and other cranky powerbrokers on the periphery itching to call an extraordinary general meeting.
Perhaps only Wayne Bennett or Craig Bellamy would be truly strong enough to handle such an environment. Hasler couldn’t. Pay, one of the Bulldogs’ own, became roadkill.
But who knows? Three years in the cut and thrust of Manly could have made Trent Barrett the right coach for the cut and thrust of the Bulldogs.
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.