Bulldogs centre Jonathan Wright says the ability of coach Des Hasler to instil self-belief in his players has been the single biggest factor in Canterbury’s dramatic surge this season, with the 25-year-old admitting he was suffering a crisis of confidence before Hasler’s arrival this year.
Ahead of Friday night’s blockbuster clash with Manly at Brookvale Oval, Wright told NRL.com that he doubted his own future in the NRL until the former Sea Eagles mentor landed just in time to turn his career around.
“Self-belief has been the main thing for me,” explained Wright, who has played all 17 games this season. “I sort of doubted myself a few times when I was playing for Parramatta and my first few games here, but Des reassured me that I’m here for a reason and I just had to believe in myself.
“When I was playing with Parra I was just playing one game here and there. I didn’t really feel like I was playing first grade at the time. When I came to the Doggies (in 2011) it took me a while to get into the team and then when I got there I was just trying to hold my spot.
“But talking to Des in the pre-season made me realise that this is what I wanted to do and this is where I want to be. He made me believe in my ability and I think that’s something he has done for a lot of the boys in the team.”
Wright debuted for Parramatta in 2010, playing 12 games in his rookie season, and added 11 more for the Bulldogs in 2011, but looks set to more than double his career tally this season after cementing a spot in the outside backs, where he has shifted between centre (nine games) and wing (eight games).
“There were a lot of little things in my game that I needed to work on when I was at Parra and my first year here,” he continued. “It’s about playing consistent football each week. Des has got me to work on certain parts of my game no matter which position I’m playing – under the high ball, catching balls – little things like that that I needed to do.
“But it’s the same for everyone. When he got to the club there were a few fringe players and some young boys coming through but he has pulled everyone together really well. He has got us playing with confidence and belief.”
Wright points to current Bulldogs halfback Kris Keating as a prime example. A team-mate of his at Parramatta, Keating also struggled to hold down his spot in the Eels’ squad and was in and out of the Canterbury line-up after joining Wright at Belmore last year.
But having earned his crack in the top grade after Trent Hodkinson went down with a knee injury early this season he has since cemented his spot in the No.7 jersey.
“Kris is a player that has worked really hard on his game,” Wright said. “He has a lot of competition for his spot with [Josh] Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson and it’s been tough for him. He didn’t start the year in the team but worked hard playing ‘reggies’ and then came up and grabbed his chance. He has kept ‘Hodgo’ out the past four or five weeks.
“When Kris was at Parra he used to stress a lot and worry about other things besides playing footy but now I think he is relaxed and in the right frame of mind. He is just playing footy and doing the simple things – running the ball when he wants to and passing when it’s needed. I’m happy for him because I’ve known him for a while.”
Incredibly, having lagged eight points behind Melbourne on the Telstra Premiership ladder just seven weeks ago, Canterbury now trail on for-and-against alone after winning their past seven games in a row.
Wright said it was crucial that the Bulldogs don’t get too far ahead of themselves but admitted winning the minor premiership should now be the side’s goal.
“Melbourne is still the team to beat and Manly this week is another quality team so we’ve still got to win games,” he said. “If we get too far ahead of ourselves we might fall over. We’ve just got to stay positive and enjoy our footy – but it’s there at the end of the year for us if we want to take it. It’s up to us to perform each week.”
That starts against Manly this Friday night and while the Sea Eagles hit a road block with last week’s surprise 32-6 loss to Newcastle, the Bulldogs are under no illusions as to what awaits them when Hasler returns to Brookvale for the first time since walking out last October.
“Des has reassured us that there would be a lot of things thrown around about him and Manly this week,” Wright said. “We had that last game against them and it didn’t faze us much. We know what we had to do. Friday night at Brookie – that should be enough anyway to get the boys hyped for the game. What has happened in the past is history – we just have to turn up ready because it’s a massive game.”
While the Bulldogs are riding high, Wright said he was hopeful of securing his own future in the coming weeks too. One of a number of players off contract at the end of the year, he has come under increased pressure following the mid-season arrivals of Krisnan Inu and Sam Perrett and the announcement last week that Steve Turner had also re-signed, but told NRL.com he was confident of remaining a Bulldog beyond 2012.
“Hopefully I get something sorted in the next few weeks with the ’Dogs,” he said. “Des has already said he would like to have me on board again for the next few years so it’s just working out the little things. But I’m happy here.
“I have a lot of faith in this team and the whole feel of the club. Obviously Des is a big part of that with what he has done for the club and how he has improved my game. I’d like to get it sorted as soon as possible so I can focus on finishing the year strong.”