Michael Ennis says the attention on Ben Barba's return in the Round 1 Bulldogs v Broncos clash will be a good thing for his team. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler loves flying under that radar, and captain Michael Ennis reckons that's exactly where the Bulldogs will be when begin their 2014 season against old teammate Ben Barba and the Broncos.
"It's probably good for us in terms of our side," Ennis said. "A lot of the focus throughout the media will be about Ben playing against his old club and hopefully for us we can just go about our business and preparation and the focus goes off us. Fingers crossed that's the way it plans out."
The NRL released the 2014 draw on Wednesday with the Roosters-Rabbitohs clash to kick off the new season on March 6 at ANZ Stadium. The traditional clash is the first of three games at the Olympic venue in Round 1, where the NRL hopes to attract in excess of 200,000 fans alone.
The action resumes the following night in what is undoubtedly the feature of the opening round: Barba's return to Homebush.
The 24-year-old's controversial exit from Belmore was hardly as acrimonious as the departure of renegade Rooster Sonny Bill Williams, but Ennis said he was unsure whether Bulldogs fans would repeat the icy reception for their former hero.
"Time will tell, but from a playing point of view, we've got so much to get through between now and that game of football," Ennis said.
"Our focus for us when we come up against Brisbane in Round 1 will obviously be getting off to a good start. We missed the boat a little bit early last year, dropped a game against the Cowboys up there at Bluetongue Stadium so we'll be looking to turn that around this year and hopefully we can have a win in that first game against Brisbane."
The 2012 Dally M medallist left the Bulldogs in controversial circumstances last August, having been granted a compassionate release from his club to join his family in Brisbane just months after being forced to undergo rehabilitation for alcohol and gambling issues at the beginning of the season.
His departure has left the club without a recognised No. 1 in 2014, with only Josh Morris, Drury Low and under-20s fullback Patrick Templeman vying for the role during pre-season.
It's been reported that the club is chasing unhappy Bronco Josh Hoffman, but Ennis was tight-lipped on whether the key position has been adequately filled.
"We've got a really good, young roster here at the Bulldogs at the moment. Obviously there are some international guys that are away in Sam [Kasiano], Frank [Pritchard] and James Graham and the rest have been away at the World Cup so obviously they'll be back in January," he said.
"But at the moment the young guys are training well. No doubt Des will have a plan of who he wants to play there at fullback, that'll feature more through January and February, then we'll get a real idea of who's going to play there for us.
"I don't really talk a lot about the recruitment. This time of the year is pretty tough for us as players just getting through our training rather than worrying about what's going on behind closed doors.
"But as I said there are some guys here at the moment that are doing a really good job in our structures stuff that we're doing from time to time on the field. No doubt those guys are really looking for an opportunity and training hard. What else comes on the back of that I'm not sure."