Echoes of Manly in Bulldogs' success
You'd swear Des Hasler never left Brookvale.
A quick run-through of the inventory in the Bulldogs supply closet turns up some eerily similar elements to those that took Hasler and Manly all the way to the 2011 premiership.
A strawberry-blonde halfback with a not-so debilitating habit for producing match winning plays: Check.
A five-eighth with more guts than you could hang on a barbed wire fence and an incisive running game to boot: Check.
An imposing forward pack that combines skill, size, and most notably toughness as they tear into opposition packs with the relish of diabetic cookie monster going at a packet of Oreos: Check
A veteran skipper with a pathological will to win and William Wallace-like ability to inspire his chargers: Check.
As to be expected there are a few different ingredients in Des's new recipe at Belmore; Stewart brothers don't just grow on trees you know, but the tried and true mix has the Dogs sitting pretty at the top of the NRL ladder, with his former club right alongside with 12 competition points after eight rounds.
While all of the above is essential, the man who followed the Manly legend's lead in trading in his maroon tracksuit for blue, 120 kilo man-mountain Tony Williams, says the commonest denominator between the two clubs is the culture Hasler has forged.
"Manly's always known for the passion the boys show for each other," says Williams, who has this season shown signs of returning to the destructive form he appeared to leave behind in the Brookvale sheds when he moved to Belmore last year.
"It was a big thing over there; everyone loved each other, because they're all brothers.
"And that's something we're building here at the Dogs. It's evident this year when we had those tough wins."
Those tough wins Williams refers to comprise the heart-stopping last month of club football in which the Bulldogs have been undefeated with a combined winning margin of just seven points, dusting the Roosters, Warriors and Rabbitohs with last-ditch field goals before putting Newcastle away in another thriller in Round 8.
"That stretch of three in a row where we won by one point, and even [against the Knights], we had to work for each other and we knew when it got down to it that we'd win and overcome the other team," Williams said.
"That's because of that bond we've got and we know that we have each other's back."
Undoubtedly a huge part of that bond is talismanic skipper Mick Ennis, who fits the same bill as Sea Eagles captain Jamie Lyon in leading from the front time and time again.
A more vocal leader than his Manly counterpart, Williams says his teammates can't help but be inspired by the selfless hooker, who recently threw himself in the path of a rampaging Sam Burgess and promptly belted the big Brit for his troubles.
"Mick plays a big part in our team, just like Killer (Lyon) did at Manly," says Williams.
"He's a very passionate player and he puts everything on the line every week, and so does everyone else because of his example.
"It helps that he's got a lot of passion for the game and for the team, and you want to do well for him and for the team."
Renowned as a confidence player, the man who answers to T-Rex was adamant the new-found cohesion and unity amongst the Bulldogs has been the key to his slow build toward the 2011 form that earned him NSW and Australian honours.
"We've gelled a lot better than we did last year, and that's always going to help your form," he said.
"We're doing more for each other on the field because we've got faith in each other which has been evident this year.
"We're always there for each other and we're now working for each other which has helped everyone's games."