Canterbury skipper James Graham says the club has learnt from the post-State of Origin depression that almost knocked them out of the NRL finals last season.
The Bulldogs were flying high in third spot when the club’s triumphant NSW contingent – led by halves Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds – returned from their breakthrough series win over Queensland.
But their Origin troupe failed to carry their form back to clubland, where the side lost four straight and almost slipped out of the top eight before eventually scrambling to seventh spot and going on to a grand final birth.
The Bulldogs were again highly represented in this year’s interstate series, with Hodkinson and the Morris twins joined by first-timers David Klemmer and Josh Jackson.
“Obviously it was different circumstances last year, in that NSW won their first series for some time,” Graham said.
“This year, there’re a couple who’ve been there before and a couple who are new to the season.
“Hopefully the disappointment can help us at club level.”
Last week’s narrow loss to Brisbane means the Bulldogs are precariously placed in eighth spot on 20 points with three teams behind them on 18.
However, Graham believes the coaching staff will have learnt how to manage the workload on its returning Origin stars and planned to have them primed for the run into the finals.
“Having 4-5 people involved in such an intense series of games no doubt takes its toll on you,” he said.
“I imagine they’ll have learnt lessons from last year on how to get them prepared and how to get them firing on all cylinders come the back end of the year.”
In a season plagued by injury and suspension that has limited him to just eight appearances, Graham himself had only just returned from a hamstring injury that kept him on the sidelines for the past month.
The 29-year-old also served a four-match suspension earlier this year for a dangerous contact and contrary conduct charge following a fiery Good Friday match against South Sydney.
“It was good to get out there and finish the game on a personal level,” Graham said of his comeback against Brisbane.
“It obviously wasn’t the result we were after, but I was just pleased to get through the game.”