Ben Blaschke,, NRL.com
It’s no secret the Bulldogs have faced the start of their minor premiership defence minus three of their most devastating big men – and if you ask Tony Williams they haven’t come anywhere near seeing the best of him either.
But that has to change now, according to Williams, if they are any hope of knocking over high-flying Melbourne in Thursday night’s hotly anticipated grand final rematch.
As Canterbury’s one and only big name signing for 2013, the NSW and Australian Test back-rower’s arrival at Belmore this season completes what, at full strength at least, must surely rate as the most intimidating forward pack in the Telstra Premiership.
Yet after his first two games in blue and white the big man is anything but happy with his contribution.
“I’ve still got heaps of improving to do,” he told NRL.com as the Bulldogs head into a third straight game minus representative trio James Graham, Frank Pritchard and Sam Kasiano (as well as fullback Ben Barba). “I’d say that even if I was playing well but I haven’t been very good and I’m still working on a few things.
“I’m getting there but it’s slow progress. I was a bit better [against Parramatta] than I was the week before but I’ve still got a lot of improving to do. I still need to gel with the boys so I think once we’ve done that I think special times will come.”
While Williams’ move to the Bulldogs was largely a decision to reunite with his former coach at Manly Des Hasler, the 24-year-old said the change of clubs had been much tougher than he expected.
“Adapting to a different place has been the hardest thing for me and not knowing the boys as well as I did back at Manly,” he continued. “But that will come. Other than that I really just need to start getting myself into the game more.
“Obviously not holding the ball doesn’t help. When we’re defending for so much of the game it’s a lot harder to get the ball in my hands. Once that’s right I think it will be better days ahead, so it’s nothing major.
“I just have to do what I have to do – turn up, do my best and help the boys as much as I can. I just need to improve.”
While the Bulldogs have been far from their best in an opening-round loss to North Queensland and a narrow win over Parramatta last week, Williams has been particularly impressed by the fight his new teammates have shown – particularly in holding out the Eels for the entire second half as they pounded the Canterbury line.
And he said it was that sort of commitment that would quickly help him become one with the playing group in 2013.
“Big time,” he said when asked that very question. “It’s something at the Bulldogs that we pride ourselves on. It makes such a difference with 'Dessy' and it showed out there. But we need to stop putting ourselves in the position where we need to do that.
“The errors are probably the biggest things that are killing us at the moment but in saying that I’ve really noticed how strong the boys are. They’re tough young guys. Just getting through that [Parramatta] game – especially with a couple of the guys carrying injury – I haven’t seen something like that in a while. It’s good to be a part of.
“It’s been a big loss with those three big boys out but we’ve shown that we’ve got a lot of depth in the team and the boys have been working hard. I think the forwards have been going well. It will be a big bonus when they get back but I’ve really enjoyed playing with these guys here.”
Although the Bulldogs will again be missing their start quartet when they line up against the undefeated Storm this week, they are expected to receive a huge boost come their Round 4 blockbuster against Souths, with fullback Barba tipped to make his return from off-field issues.
Barba returned to training over the weekend as his rehabilitation continues, with Williams admitting that his presence alone had lifted spirits at the club’s Belmore headquarters.
“It was great to have him there,” Williams said. “It’s not easy what he is doing. I guess I don’t know him as well as the other boys but I think it’s a good thing that he’s back around. I guess when he is ready it will be good for all of us to have him back.”