Bulldogs run Origin gauntlet
Not for the first time since arriving at Belmore, Canterbury-Bankstown coach Des Hasler will have to deal with some off-field adversity – only this time it's got nothing to do with players' behaviour.
The two-time premiership-winning coach enters this week's crucial blockbuster against old club Manly with a squad that has now felt the full force of the juggernaut that is State of Origin.
Halves Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson announced themselves as bona fide stars with successful outings for NSW last week, although Reynolds endured a stressful aftermath with his controversial downgrading of a lifting charge on Maroons centre Brent Tate.
Their physical and mental strength will be stretched like never before during a gruelling Origin campaign that, particularly for Blues fans, has a history of upending some of the most promising young halves in the game.
While they will be buoyed by their success in Game One, it remains to be seen how it will impact their return to club football.
"I guess we'll see this weekend," forward Dale Finucane said on Tuesday. "We saw [against the Roosters], we were really competitive up until the 60th minute. We were in it within a try but we just fell away in that last 20 minutes.
"I'm not sure if it was an organisational thing or why we fell away, but definitely having them in the side [this week] helps us greatly."
The game shapes as a mini preview between expected Origin II halfbacks Hodkinson and Daly Cherry-Evans, although one has to assume Hasler will ensure his halfback will be purely focused on a result for his team.
"Sometimes people make a big ideal about sevens coming up against each other but they'll very rarely tackle each other and they rarely come up against each other," said prop James Graham.
"I guess it's from a statistics point of view with his kicking game, his try assists, etc. But I'm sure for us, Trent will be concentrating on doing a job for the team and not trying to outscore or outpoint Daly Cherry-Evans. That's important.
"Trent's a smart guy and I'm sure the staff here will make sure that they concentrate, Josh as well, doing the right thing for the team and playing to our structures and our game plan."
The biggest blow for Hasler is the loss of primary strike weapon Josh Morris, who will be out for at least six weeks after playing with a ruptured PCL in last Wednesday's Origin gauntlet.
"He's a massive loss for us," said Finucane. "But in saying that we've got a lot of depth at the club that can fill those positions as we've had in the past. As much as we are worried about not having Josh in the side, there's a lot of depth there to cover it."
The news is just as bad on boom kid Moses Mybe, who faces a similar amount of time on the sidelines after injuring his foot filling in for Hodkinson in the loss to the Roosters two weeks ago that snapped the club's seven-game winning streak.
On top of all that, unwanted captain Mick Ennis keeps putting on a brave face as he deliberates on what could be the final contract of his career from either Cronulla or Canberra, all while co-captain Frank Pritchard recuperates from a pectoral injury suffered back in April.
It's all created one big headache for Hasler, who will draw on his coaching experience to guide a club that hasn't been hit this hard by the representative season since 2009.
Players have been chewed up and spat out by the Origin cauldron before, but Graham expects his teammates to return in an opposite manner – starting with an Origin-like showing on Friday night.
"I guess time will tell. They've had the bye, they didn't back up straight away, so they'll be rested and ready to go. I think they'll be alright," he said of the Bulldogs' Origins stars.
"They'll want to prove why they're there and probably just give a reminder to the NSW selectors and coaching staff that the occasion hasn't gotten to them. As a player, I'm looking for them, with the experience that they take out of being in Origin, that that really kicks us on for this mid to last end of the season."