They’ve won four in a row to rocket up to second spot on the NRL ladder but Canterbury five-eighth Josh Reynolds says the Bulldogs can’t consider themselves genuine premiership contenders unless they prove they can match it with Melbourne on Sunday.
Canterbury is arguably the form side of the competition at the moment registering impressive wins over Cronulla, Sydney Roosters, South Sydney and St George Illawarra as the influence of new coach Des Hasler continues to take hold.
But having gone down 12-6 when the two sides met at AAMI Park earlier in the year, Reynolds believes this week’s ‘home’ clash in Mackay in far north Queensland will prove the real litmus test of how the Bulldogs are traveling.
He also knows his one-on-one match-up with Storm skipper Cameron Smith, who is filling in at five-eighth with Gareth Widdop shifted to fullback to cover for the injured Billy Slater, will provide him with solid evidence of his progress in the No.6 jersey for the ’Dogs.
“It’s pretty well known that they haven’t got too many weaknesses on the field,” Reynolds told NRL.com. “We were just beaten by them last time and we didn’t take that too well so we want to go up there with a good attitude and hopefully come away with a win.
“Melbourne has been the benchmark for years. We do see ourselves as a top-four side but we need to test ourselves against the best.
“Personally I love playing against [Cameron Smith and] the best players in the game because it puts it into perspective how good you’ve got to become. We’ll find out this week how far we’ve got to go.”
The Bulldogs gave Melbourne a real fright in their Round 7 clash, taking an early 6-0 lead and dominating long periods of the game before falling in a nail-biter.
Reynolds is adamant his side has come a long way since the start of the year.
“It’s a totally different sort of [attacking] style this year to how we used to play but everyone is starting to get used to it by now. We weren’t really attacking well at the start of the year but we’ve just got a bit of confidence back,” he said, pointing to a run of four losses in five games that preceded their current winning streak.
“We were actually in all those games but we cruelled ourselves with penalties and mistakes.
“We definitely feel that we’ve grown as a team and it’s just down to everyone knowing their roles and doing their jobs. We’re all starting to do that a lot better now.”
Asked to define the primary differences between 2011 and 2012, Reynolds said: “It’s mainly how the forwards are playing and other teams not knowing whether they’re just going to hit it up or do that little tip-on we’ve been doing.
“It’s the best feeling playing behind Sammy [Kasiano] and big Franky [Pritchard] – they put teams in two minds and it makes our job so much easier out the back.
“But again, it’s just everyone doing their individual jobs and that’s what [Des] wants us to do.”
Reynolds himself has been one of the Bulldogs’ success stories this season. The 23-year-old impressed filling in for injured hooker Michael Ennis late last year but has made the No.6 jersey his own since moving to the halves full-time in 2012.
“To be honest I probably wasn’t that confident [of being in the starting 13] – I thought I might fill that utility role again after last year,” Reynolds explained. “But Des gave me a shot and hopefully I can stay there for the rest of the year.
“It’s been a really good move for me. At the start of the year Des went through with me how we were going to play this year and everything we needed to fix up.
“For me, I’m always trying to improve my game and getting out to do all the little extras. I definitely want to improve my kicking game, going from hooker to the halves. I want to be a bit more dominant. I’m working on that week in, week out and trying to improve my game.
“I don’t want to give myself a rap but I think I’m improving and that’s what it’s all about. But if we’re winning games and I’m helping the boys out as much as I can, I’m happy.”