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It might be a stretch to say that their season is on the line at this early stage, but as far as the Bulldogs are concerned their clash with arch rivals Manly on Friday night is nothing less than ‘must-win’.
Still dazed from their 1-3 start to the season that came on the back of Ben Barba’s off-field dramas and the absence of three key forwards through suspension and injury, Canterbury’s quest to defend their minor premiership in 2013 hit another snag during the week with Krisnan Inu’s five-match suspension for a dangerous tackle.
With their sole win this season being a narrow escape against struggling Parramatta, they are staring down the barrel of a 1-4 start to the year should they fall to the in-form Sea Eagles this week, with veteran forwards Frank Pritchard and Greg Eastwood telling NRL.com that they simply cannot afford a third straight loss.
“If you’ve only won one after five you’re really starting to struggle,” Eastwood said. “Des (Hasler, coach) has made a real point of that this week – we’ve got to get a win no matter how we get it. We’ve got to get those two points. It’s important for the confidence of the young guys.
“Manly is going really well at the moment and we’re not at our best yet but we’re looking forward to the challenge. It’s going to be massive for us. We’ve got to get the two points.”
Particularly galling for the Bulldogs is the fact that they’ve been far from embarrassed in any of their three losses but have lacked the killer instinct that took them all the way to the grand final in 2012.
“It’s worrying but games against the form sides, you can’t give away easy tries and expect to come back at the end and win games,” Pritchard observed. “The boys have hung in there but they’ve got to do it a bit better. Even against Souths last week, I think at the back end of that game we let it slip. We just can’t afford to go to sleep in these games.
“The thing is, we’ve got the team to do it. We can’t afford to rely on [the injured] guys [as an excuse]. The 17 guys that take the field should be able to come up with the win week-in, week-out. That’s the expectation that we have on the boys and that’s what we’ve got to do each week. We’ve got to find a way to win. If we want to be in the top four at the end of the year then games like this you’ve got to win.”
The Bulldogs haven’t had it easy to start the year. They opened the season with a 24-12 loss to North Queensland, narrowly beat Parramatta and have since lost consecutive games to the only two sides still undefeated in Melbourne and South Sydney.
But Eastwood said there was no room for excuses and even took the unusual step of singling out halves Josh Reynolds and Kris Keating as needing to step up their games.
“We’ve been trying our hearts out but we’ve taken some wrong options at times and the Souths game on the weekend was real tough. They were non-stop for 80,” he said. “I think our halves have to take on a bigger role to find the right pass or the right kick. I’m sure they can do that this week. But our defence has been really good. Like I said, at times taking the wrong option has cost us in the end.”
Pritchard also admitted that the Bulldogs have yet to get the best out of star signing Tony Williams in 2013 and while plenty of anticipation surrounds his first clash with his former club tonight, he urged Williams not to get carried away by the occasion.
“There has been a lot of expectation on Tony,” he said. “Obviously him coming over from Manly, this is going to be a grudge match for him but I think he just needs to put that aside and worry about what the team needs first and foremost.
“He just needs to focus on playing good footy for the team and just doing the simple things right. If he lets a lot of things get to him it’s not going to work.
“It’s probably not the perfect start for him but he will get better. It’s a team game though so we can’t just rely on T-Rex.”
Canterbury at least saw some positive progress in regards to their absent players last week with the returns of both Barba and Pritchard. And as much as Hasler has tried to play down any rivalry with his old club Manly since arriving last season, Eastwood is adamant the Bulldogs know enough about their opponents under Hasler’s tutelage to cause them problems.
“Yeah, the Des factor will come in and they’ll be up for it – especially because we got on top of them last year in the semis. They’ll want to get us back for that,” he said.
“But Des knows a bit about them. We did our video on their attack and how to defend them. I think there are some spots there that we can target but I think it’s really about how we go about doing that.”
“If we can get a win this week I’m sure we can get some confidence back in the team and come out of it.”