Des Hasler might be intent on sliding under the radar, but even he can’t shy away from Canterbury’s NRL top-four credentials.
With five wins from their past six games, the Bulldogs could push into the top four this weekend.
Only behind fourth-placed North Queensland on for-and-against, the Dogs are in the running to secure two bites of the cherry.
They also have the benefit of a favourable draw, starting on Saturday afternoon with Newcastle.
The make-up of the top four is likely to be decided by their penultimate-round clash with the Cowboys but games against the last-placed Knights, Manly, out-of-sorts Brisbane and South Sydney are prime opportunities to bank two points.
And while they have looked shaky in their 36-0 loss to the Cowboys and last week’s dour win over St George Illawarra, there’s plenty to like about the Belmore boys.
Along with Melbourne, they are among the most-disciplined teams in the competition.
They are third in the league for completions (78.2 per cent), second for least handling errors (8.5 per game), fourth for running metres (1489 per game) and second for least missed tackles (21.4).
“Obviously, top four is an advantage, getting two bites at the cherry,” Hasler said.
“But you can’t control that and results go each way. The only thing you can control is to keep winning.”
Despite his side’s impressive stats, Hasler said he still wasn’t satisfied.
“We didn’t get off to a good start against the Cowboys and possession was a reason that night, if you want to lean on stats,” Hasler said.
“There are parts of our game we definitely need to fix.
“It sounds pretty boring, talking about hanging onto the ball. But it’s a pretty fundamental part of the game.”
The Bulldogs can leapfrog the Cowboys and third-placed Canberra with a win over Newcastle and if results run their way.
The Knights are on the cusp of breaking their record for most losses in a row after 14 defeats on the trot.
They are also one defeat short of equalling the longest losing streak in the NRL era – 14 straight games set by Western Suburbs in 1998-99.
They have also broken the club record for most losses in a season (17) and are on track for a new league record for least wins in a season in the NRL era (three, set by South Sydney in 2003 and 2006).
STATS THAT MATTER:
* Newcastle have conceded 20 or more points in a club-record 13 straight matches. Only five teams in premiership history have conceded 20 or more points in 14 games in a row
* Newcastle have conceded the opening try in 16 of 19 matches this season
* As the away team, the Bulldogs have won seven of their 10 matches – the second-best away record behind Melbourne