Despite more than a month remaining in the regular NRL season, Canterbury’s premiership credentials face an early examination when they host struggling St George Illawarra.
The Bulldogs blew a big chance to secure a second chance in the finals after their no-show against defending premiers North Queensland in Townsville last-start, dropping to fifth spot.
Now the 2014 grand finalists have to regroup quickly and kick-start their premiership assault on Friday night at ANZ Stadium against a spiralling Dragons side that have lost their past three matches.
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler insists it’s imperative his men put the Cowboys’ nightmare behind them and respond against the Dragons if they are to challenge for the top four.
“We need to make sure that doesn’t happen again, but what’s done is done,” he said on Thursday.
“The boys are obviously disappointed and we’ve got to get back out (there). The top four is what we’ve got a chance of making. It’s very tight so we need to win games.”
Hasler pointed out that every grand final winner in the NRL era has come from inside the top four.
Not since the Bulldogs came from sixth in 1995 to lift the ARL trophy have the premiers come from outside the top four teams during the home-and-away season.
“History would tell you it’s very important (to finish top four),” he said.
“Obviously any chance you’ve got a second chance is always good. But it’s something to work for.”
After the Dragons, the Bulldogs round out the regular season with matches against Newcastle (away), Manly (home), Brisbane (away), North Queensland (home) and South Sydney (home).
Hasler said an inconsistent start to the year meant his side quickly need to find some rhythm to win back their standing among the competition’s favourites.
“The way the season’s panned out, we definitely wanted to get a little momentum and we get that opportunity towards the back end of the season.”