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In-limbo Canterbury coach Jim Dymock has a welcome message for worried Bulldogs’ fans – the mongrel is back! Gone are the sloppy defensive efforts and double-digit losses that anchored the club near the bottom of the table earlier this year – Dymock’s pledge is that under his reign, the new Bulldogs’ outfit won’t be cut to shreds again.

And he promised the blue-and-whites won’t be playing formulaic footy – they’re focused on a return to the good old days when they were lauded as the NRL’s ‘entertainers’.

In the four weeks since the departure of head coach Kevin Moore the Belmore boys have delivered a much-improved defensive effort, including holding the Eels and Cowboys to single figures. Dymock – who Canterbury great Terry Lamb endorsed yesterday as the right man to take the helm of the club on a fulltime basis from next year – credits a return to old-fashioned values for the team’s change in fortunes which have remarkably kept their finals hopes alive.

“I don’t think heaps has changed [since I took over] – I’ve just tried to work on our defence and get back to our old roots,” Dymock told today ahead of their must-win clash with the Sharks on Monday night. “I’ve been trying to get some older players in [at training]. We just had [former Kangaroos and Bulldogs Ring of Champions member] Kevin Ryan in and next week I’ll try to get David Gillespie to come and talk to the boys.

“The main thing for me is I want to produce footballers, not athletes. I want my players to look up and play what’s in front of them, not be robotic. Everyone seems to be starting to enjoy throwing the ball around a bit more...  It’s all about timing, knowing when to give it and when not to... hopefully they’re starting to learn that. But defence has definitely been the main focus.”

The influence of those former players and the return to basics appears to be working. Last week’s unexpected victory over the fourth-placed Cowboys was the result of some tremendous aggressive defence on the Bulldogs’ tryline. Coupled with a courageous 8-7 golden-point victory in the Round 20 clash with Parramatta, Dymock’s first with the club, and there’s plenty for the kennel to be excited about.

“I don’t think fans should be too unhappy [where the Bulldogs are, after last week’s win against the Cowboys],” Dymock says. “If fans keep coming and supporting us, that is a bare minimum of what we can achieve. With that focus on defence and by executing our attack a little better I think the points will come to us. And we’re still a chance of making the finals if we keep winning – we’ve just got to take it week by week.”

Dymock heaps praise on a bunch of young players, including boom playmaker Josh Reynolds and Joel Romelo, who will miss Monday night’s game through suspension. Reynolds, a plumber by trade and the Bulldogs’ 2010 NSW Cup player of the year, has proven a great fill-in for Michael Ennis, who is recovering from surgery on his injured neck and will not return this season. Dymock says shifting Reynolds to hooker from the halves (although he played five-eighth last week and excelled) has been simple and effective.

“Josh is a good local junior who played most of his junior football at halfback,” Dymock says. “He’s moved into the no.9 role – he loves to get amongst it. I think no.9 suits him down to a tee.

“There’s plenty of Mick Ennis in Josh, actually. They call Mick ‘the grub’ and they call Josh ‘the grub’ too. They are very similar in the way they play.

 “We lost kick pressure when we lost Mick (to injury) but when Josh moved into the position that was something he took on board, to his credit. Josh and Mick are probably the two fittest players at our club. Mick is doing everything he can to help develop Josh – he’s taken him under his wing and giving him any advice or tips he needs, as [he’s] obviously still a work in progress.”

Also a work in progress is the Bulldogs’ season – one loss over the final four rounds would end their 2011 campaign. They currently sit 10th on 22 competition points, alongside the ninth-placed Rabbitohs, but worse off by 26 points scored on differential . The chasing pair sit four points below the Wests Tigers, Knights and Warriors. But continued victories and results going their way could see the Bulldogs slip into the top eight.

“We’ve just got to win our games… that’s all,” Dymock says. “If you can win your games you’re always going to be a chance... but it’s not going to be easy. We play Cronulla – they beat us [earlier this season]; Manly – they beat us; Newcastle we haven’t played yet and we play Canberra the last round – and they beat us. Hopefully we can turn them around.”

With the full-time head coaching role for 2012 and beyond still undecided, Dymock knows these final four games are crucial to his career prospects. He knows victories and nothing else are the keys to securing a role long-term as head coach.

“There’s no word as yet [about who will be head coach in 2012] – [CEO] Todd Greenberg’s just going through the applicants at the moment. All I can do is help us win football games – if we do, that’ll put me in a decent position. I’m loving my job here at the moment [as head coach] – it’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

Late NRL news:

•    North Queensland welcome back Johnathan Thurston (knee) and Matt Scott (back) for tonight’s blockbuster clash with Brisbane when Darren Lockyer will make his 350th appearance and break the record for all-time first grade games.

•    Michael Jennings has been stood down by the Panthers for disciplinary reasons, Mark Gasnier is out of action for the Dragons and Jamie Soward remains in doubt. Check out all the late mail details on the Updated Round 23 Team Lists.

•    Free to run out for the Sharks on Monday night after beating a Dangerous Contact charge at the NRL judiciary midweek, skipper Paul Gallen is poised to become the first player in NRL history to record 500 offloads (current total 495).

•    Mitch Brown replaces the injured Chris Lawrence for the Tigers’ clash with Penrith tonight, while Benji Marshall and Todd Payten will line-up for their 150th NRL match in the gold and black.  Fullback Wade McKinnon needs one line-break to reach 100 for his career, while Marshall (775 points) needs 12 points to overtaking Brett Hodgson as the Tigers’ highest pointscorer.

•    The Roosters are yet to name replacements for Todd Carney, Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Nate Myles, who have been suspended for breaching a team alcohol ban. The Roosters play the Dragons on Sunday at WIN Stadium – a venue they haven’t won at since 1998.