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.”
Bulldogs second-rower Tony Williams is no chance of making it back early from a hamstring issue, with Lloyd Perrett and Tyrone Phillips to miss out after being named in extended line-up named on Tuesday.
For the Dragons, rookie Jacob Host comes in for the suspended Leeson Ah Mau, while injured star Josh Dugan took part in cardio training for the first time since breaking his jaw in State of Origin III.
He is expected to return in round 24.
The club has also had to deal with the standing down of Tim Lafai and Siliva Havili after they were charged with affray and offensive behaviour.
STATS THAT MATTER
* Canterbury have won eight of nine matches against St George Illawarra since 2012, with five of them being by 13 points or more.
* Canterbury have won their past three matches at ANZ Stadium, all of them by 10 points or more.
* St George Illawarra are undefeated on the eight occasions they’ve led at halftime, but have lost in all 10 games they’ve trailed at the break.