Canterbury coach Des Hasler’s unblemished post-State of Origin record goes on the line when his side hosts NRL leaders Brisbane at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
Since taking over in 2012, the Bulldogs are yet to lose a game immediately after an interstate match – the only team undefeated in that period.
In his past five seasons at Manly, Hasler won a further 11 of 13 – again, the best post-Origin record of any team in that timeframe.
But his impressive streak will get a stern test against the sole competition leaders who arrive in Sydney on Friday gunning for their sixth straight victory.
Asked whether Brisbane were the team to beat this year, Hasler said: “I don’t think they’d like you saying that, but they’re not sitting in first place because they’re not a complete footy side.
“(They’re a) very competent footy side. They’re the top of the table and that’s the respect they deserve. They worked hard for it.”
The return of supercoach Wayne Bennett has had the desired effect in Brisbane, who are now considered by some bookmakers as certainties to reach this year’s grand final.
“There’s always a bit of adlib to the way they’re playing,” Hasler described of Bennett-led squads.
“They’re a very disciplined side. That’s probably the word that best describes the Broncos at all facets in the game.”
Hasler revealed hamstrung skipper James Graham could be a late inclusion on Saturday night, while his five-man Origin contingent of Brett and Josh Morris, Trent Hodkinson, David Klemmer and Josh Jackson will all be monitored over the next 48 hours.
Hodkinson signed a three-year deal with Newcastle earlier this week in a move Hasler said was forced by salary cap pressures.
“What’s been commented and written about Trent is his ability to steer sides around,” he said.
“(He’s a) very competent goalkicker as well. So those ingredients we’ll need to find elsewhere.
“That’s what rugby league is about. One leads and one comes through.
“The cap doesn’t help as well. We’re not the first club to experience that, and we won’t be the last.”
Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday, Matt Gillett and Darius Boyd will back up for the Broncos however Bennett will rest Justin Hodges.
“It’s a good test for us tomorrow night, it’s probably not a real test because we’re all coming out of Origin,” Bennett said.
“They’ve got players coming out of Origin as well, so they’ve got the same as we have.
“It’s the start of what this next nine weeks is all about – where we can finish in the comp and what we can do after that.”
STATS THAT MATTER
– The Bulldogs have just 19 wins from 46 games against the Broncos, their worst record against any current opponent. Brisbane has won each of the past three meetings including a 41-10 thrashing late last season, their biggest win over the Bulldogs.
– A win in this match would see Wayne Bennett bring up his 450th victory. Bennett has won 10 of his past 12 matches against the Bulldogs, while he has won seven of his past nine against Des Hasler-coached sides.
– Brett Morris has lost his past seven matches against the Broncos, with his last win against them coming back in round five, 2010. But he has scored nine tries in his past nine matches at ANZ Stadium.