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Despite skipper Michael Ennis failing to finish the match, the Bulldogs rallied to go through to the 2014 premiership decider.

It happens a lot in rugby league.

A player's influence over a side is most keenly felt, and most starkly revealed, in their absence. 

It's just not all that often that we see the absence of Michael Ennis result in Canterbury becoming more combative. Even more bullish. Somehow more dogged.

If the old adage of 'war is peace' ever rang true, then Belmore is the Promised Land and Ennis is St. Peter standing at the holy gates. 

So when the top Dog's left foot went the wrong way under a Panthers forward five minutes from the break on Saturday night, you didn't need a knife to cut the air at ANZ. You could've used a sledgehammer. 

Ennis is off to Cronulla next year, on a two-year deal signed firmly with his young family and their need for food on the table in mind. 

And having missed just two games in the past three years, it looked like the mutt with the most mongrel of them all would spend his last 40 minutes in the blue and white watching from the sidelines, his foot wrapped with ice. 

Sure, Canterbury were up 12-0 at the time, but this is the side that had averaged under three points in the second half of their last seven games. And when Panthers magic man Matt Moylan slid over a couple of minutes before oranges, that lead was cut in half.

They were also playing Penrith, a team whose fairy tale had already come so far and through so much, it seemed that golden carriage they had ridden for 29 weeks might never reveal itself as a pumpkin. 

Put plainly, this looked grim. Like those RSPCA ads you see about all the puppies that are dumped the day after Christmas grim.

But as Des Hasler informed his men that Ennis would not be returning to the field due to a foot injury, 16 pairs of eyes hardened in the Bulldogs dressing room. 

Cut off the head and 16 more will grow back, snapping and snarling in its place.

Like fun this blue and white army were going to let their captain bow out of his last game in the club colours in such an underwhelming fashion. 

"There's no way I was letting Mick go out like that," reserve prop David Klemmer said.

"I love him as a bloke. We all love him.

"The way he approaches the game, that combative style, you need that in rugby league and that's what I love about him. That's what we all love about him."

It's exactly what plenty in the game love about Ennis too. It's also what plenty more in the game love to hate about him. 

And as the Panthers sent wave after wave of unpredictable, unstructured and unrelenting attack at the Bulldogs goal line, Ennis had his 'O Captain, My Captain' moment. 

Not standing on a desk in the manner of the late and stupendously great Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, but sitting on the sideline, with his foot on ice and his heart in his mouth.

So Josh Reynolds niggled. Dale Finucane picked up the defensive slack. James Graham gave it to Jamie Soward. James Graham gave it to the refs. James Graham gave it to everyone bar the ball boys.

It was like Ennis had never left. Just as he has ever since arriving on Canterbury's doorstep in 2009, his fourth club in six seasons, Ennis led from the front. Despite being confined to the role of spectator, he was smack bang in the thick of it.

"Having that never back down attitude, Mick and ‘Jamma’ (Graham) as well, they are always leading the way through their actions and you can't help but follow them," Finucane said.

"Mick's personality rubs off on other people as well... even without him out there, we had confidence we'd get through because he and Des have instilled that in us.

"The way they play is something you want to aspire to and gives the team something to play off the back of."

The Dogs of War not so much unleashed as backed onto their own line by a Panthers outfit that spent 48 minutes in their territory, they bit hard. And often.  

In the exact same fashion their skipper has done so in each of his 135 games for the club. 

Ensuring that amidst the euphoria on the streets of Belmore this week, as the locals celebrate a second grand final appearance in three years, a clock will be watched by the masses, and raced by the injured Ennis.

A man who has his teammates to thank for following the very example he has set them.

The mutt with the most mongrel of them all, with one last chance to have his day of all days in the blue and white.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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