However, he was surprised the streak remained the benchmark given the club was punished for cheating.
“Didn’t they get their points stripped?” Cleary asked. ”I don’t think it’s fair. How can it be?
‘It’s like saying Melbourne should keep their [2007 and 2009] premierships. Did [sprinter] Ben Johnson keep his  gold medal?’
“It’s like saying Melbourne should keep their [2007 and 2009] premierships. Did [sprinter] Ben Johnson keep his [1988 Olympics] gold medal?
“I understand the individual records, but as far as a team goes, how can it be acknowledged when they were cheating?”
NRL historian David Middleton said the Bulldogs’ streak was the best in the modern era, but the Roosters held the overall record with 19 wins in 1975.
“The [Bulldogs] record still stands because the games were played and the wins were recognised, they just lost all their competition points,” Middleton said.
“It’s like the Storm, they won the grand finals but were stripped of the titles. You can’t say it didn’t happen. The players’ records still stand and they weren’t changed. The wins were recognised, but the penalty was stripping of competition points, not the withdrawal of wins.”
Former representative prop Mark O’Meley featured in the 2002 Canterbury side and said the record deserved to stay. He still has the record framed on a wall in his home.
“Regardless of what went on with the salary cap, it was a special thing and pretty tough to do,” O’Meley said.
“As a player, it’s hard to say we didn’t win 17 straight. We had to beat Penrith in the last minute in one game, I had a one-on-one rake on Colin Ward and flicked it to Braith [Anasta] to score to keep the record going. Hazem [el Masri] kicked one from the sideline in another game.
‘As players, we didn’t know who the board spent money on. I was proud of that record.’
“As players, we didn’t know who the board spent money on. I was proud of that record.”
Cronulla won 15 in a row in 2016. Melbourne also did it across the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
“I made my comments pretty clear about that, pretty clear at the time, and I don’t want to add any more fuel to any fire that may be brewing for this game – I’m up to my quota in terms of promoting this game in the past, so I’ll leave it at that,” Cleary said.
He also made it clear there was no desire to let Matt Burton walk out on the club to join Canterbury next year. Cleary knows Burton will come in handy should there be an injury to starting halves Nathan Cleary or Jarome Luai. Because of the rate of his growth, Burton is now referred to as ‘John Sutton’, a reference to the Souths legend who outgrew five-eighth and played in the forwards.
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Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.