Sentimental Ennis will leave club in good shape
An esteemed Greek philosopher once mused, "The measure of a man is what he does with power" – so according to Plato, departing Bulldogs skipper Michael Ennis must be one of biggest fellas in the NRL.
Ennis's side is yet to secure themselves an invite to the NRL's finals fiesta next month, which means he can ill-afford to start looking into his rear-view mirror.
But if they do, it'll be the club's third straight year of September football. And all of them will have come under his watch.
Despite what's at stake though, the 30-year-old has already starting counting down the minimum three games he has left as a Belmorenian local – starting with Thursday night's clash against the Tigers.
The Sharks-bound hooker just can't help but reflect on what he's helped rebuild in his six years at the club.
"I don't really know or [want to] comment on what it was like before I got here, but since I've been here I've seen some wonderful changes at the club," he begins.
Having already been at three different clubs, Ennis arrived at the Bulldogs in the summer of 2008. A crafty little hooker with a disturbing penchant for the tough stuff, he had never fully entrenched himself either in his first two seasons at Newcastle, nor in his one at the Dragons.
But three years under Wayne Bennet's tutelage in Brisbane – where he missed the 2006 premiership triumph with an ACL injury – helped unleashed his trademark competitive fire. In his final year there, he fell one game short of another decider, before announcing a move to the Dogs.
"I came on board not long after [former Bulldogs CEO] Todd Greenberg came. He obviously did a tremendous job," he recalled.
"Now Raelene [Castle] has obviously come on board and Todd's gone to the NRL and achieving some great things there. Raelene, as the first female CEO of an NRL club, is doing great things here.
"I've seen the Belmore facility built and we're back to where the Dogs were built. I've seen a coach like Des Hasler come here, blokes like Josh Jackson and [Dale] Finucane starting to represent. Tim Lafai, I've seen him coming through the system, as well as Moses Mbye."
There was one kid, however, who Ennis took a particular liking to. Someone who he could see a lot of himself in. Someone who would one day help the NSW Blues end an interstate dynasty.
"I remember young Joshy Reynolds as a young kid playing -20s and talking to him on the phone when he broke his leg and talking to him about staying positive. To go and see him play State of Origin this year was awesome," he said.
"When Josh got his first shot in the six jersey this year, seeing him and Trent [Hodkinson] standing together knowing how hard Trent had worked in his rehab and what a good fellow he is too...
"Me and Josh have been really close mates since he came into first grade. It was pretty emotional, to be honest. I remember sitting on the lounge and it was a pretty good feeling seeing two of your mates, knowing what they've been through, to see them standing there together achieving something together was a pretty good moment."
But if Ennis helped Belmore regain its relevancy, then Belmore certainly helped Ennis find his.
In 2012, he took over the captaincy duties from club legend Andrew Ryan – a responsibility that arguably pushed Ennis to another level in his career.
The former NSW hooker was thankful to the club for one of the best experiences of his career so far.
"Always as a young guy, you hope or think about captaining a side. I'll certainly never forget the memory of walking down the tunnel in 2012 as captain in a grand final," he said.
"Albeit we didn't win it, it was still an amazing experience and achievement for myself. I'd have to say that I've certainly matured in the role. When I was first given it, I probably didn't understand it. A couple of years later I understood it a lot more and I feel like I've improved a lot in that area."
Ennis's eventual exit stands to be the only significant change at the Bulldogs next season. And while he won't be around to be a part of it, Ennis believes he's played a part in building a strong future for the club.
And that, some would say, is the real measure of a man when he leaves a place he loves.
"Since I've been at the club, there was a lot of change when I first came. I think there were six or seven blokes that came in one pre-season that were regular first graders," he said.
"But over the last few years there's a real stability and the playing group have been together for a fair while. Other than myself leaving, they are going to be together for a while. I think the club is in good shape and there's no doubt they'll continue to be super competitive over the coming seasons as well."