In-form T-Rex wants to do it for Ennis
High-profile Bulldogs back-rower Tony Williams copped more heat than most during his side's late-season form slump, and now the team's sole owner of an NRL premiership ring wants to repay the faith with another title to honour injured skipper Michael Ennis.
Williams is also delighted to see a couple of his teammates – notably co-captain Frank Pritchard – shake off serious injuries to take their place on grand final day.
Williams won a title with Manly in 2011, while nine of his teammates on Sunday (or 10, if Ennis makes a miraculous return from his fractured foot) will be backing up from the 2012 loss to Melbourne. Prop James Graham won a Super League title with St Helens in 2006.
When the Dogs slumped to their sixth loss in eight games in Round 26 against the Titans, most people had put a red line through their 2014 chances, and Williams was one of the men in the firing line, deemed to be not having the impact his huge frame suggested he should.
His own form surge since then has matched his team's, with his massive charges with ball in hand frequently bending the line back and proving a massive handful for opposition defences.
He has averaged 146 metres and six tackle breaks over three games in the finals – both well up on his regular season averages of 107 metres and four tackle breaks.
"We knew after the Titans game that we were playing low, not even close to being our best. We knew within each other we had the team to go all the way, we still had that belief and that's what's got us this far," Williams told NRL.com.
"The amount of talent we've got in our team is massive and you don't want to fall short knowing you could go all the way. 'Don't die wondering' has been the message."
The gentle giant is always softly spoken and appears sombre when discussing the form slump, but allows himself the tiniest of smiles when asked where he found his recent form spike.
"It's finals footy!" he says when asked where the improvement has come from.
"I knew we had a chance and I knew I had to play my role and make a difference in the game and that's what I'm going to do this week. I play my best footy when I make a difference in the game at crucial times and I knew that at times this year, I had good games, average games and I just wanted to be more consistent in the finals and that's something I've been looking to do."
Williams refuses to blame a few injuries and suspensions at the back end of the year for the form slump, but says with captain and hooker Mick Ennis all but ruled out that will provide even more motivation for the players.
"I spoke to the boys last week and told them, if we can make it into the Grand Final, this week will be one of the best weeks of our career. And it will be, you know, knowing we've got one more game then we can hopefully enjoy the win with each other and enjoy it with Mick who's played a big part in our team – we want to do it for each other and him."
Of Pritchard, who was earlier in the year ruled out for the season by the club's medical staff due to a torn pec, Williams just shakes his head in admiration.
"No-one thought he'd be back this year. He's proved everyone wrong and he's done extremely well to get back on the field," Williams says.
"He's getting there, he's getting that fitness back and I think this week he'll come out firing. He plays a big part in our team and he's a leader – that's what we need. Tim Browne's another one [making an early return from a depressed skull fracture], the boys have worked hard and that's how much dedication we have between each other.
"Those boys worked hard, the doctors said they weren't going to get back this year and they proved them wrong – they fought hard, they trained hard, they did recovery, and look at them now – they're back and playing in a grand final which is massive."