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Canterbury Bulldogs centre Will Hopoate.

Canterbury-Bankstown's recent marked improvement begs the question – where was this resolve when their season was alive?

"It sucks. It's a bit late now, isn’t it?" Bulldogs centre Will Hopoate told

Canterbury have practically ensured they won't finish last by defeating finals contenders Cronulla, Newcastle, Penrith and Wests Tigers in the past six weeks.

While the upswing has renewed hope for Canterbury's future, Hopoate admitted it's frustrating they couldn't deliver sooner and salvage 2019.

"We've got to do our best to win every game for the rest of the year. It would have been nice if we did it at the beginning of the year, but it is what it is," he said.

"You go to any player in any team – everyone wants to play finals, everyone has that intention from the start. It just wasn't meant to be for us. We can use these games as a stepping stone to next season."

Hopoate hailed the mid-year arrival of Kiwi fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak as the catalyst of their resurgence.

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Will Hopoate and Renouf Toomaga.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Will Hopoate and Renouf Toomaga. ©David Hossack/NRL Photos

"I think it's the reason why we've won a few more games. The way he returns the ball, it's been amazing for us," Hopoate said.

"Our middles don't have to run all the way back if he's producing some line breaks on the kick return. It makes our sets a whole lot easier."

Veteran prop Aiden Tolman highlighted a defensive focus as the key to the Bulldogs' good form. But, like Hopoate, he lamented the side's lethargic opening to the year in which they won three from the first 14 games.

Marshall-King takes advantage of quick ball

"It's nice to see the hard work is paying off and we can match it with anybody [but] it's something we'll have to address going into next season - you can't start a season off the way we did and expect to make the finals," Tolman said.

"We need to take the mentality we've had the last six weeks and hopefully finish off the season on a high. We've got a lot of belief out of the last six weeks that we can play some really good footy at times."

The hardened Tolman, 30, is the oldest member of a youthful squad and has assumed an increased leadership role supporting captain Josh Jackson.

He conceded Canterbury's inexperience can be a handful to manage.

"It's hard because you want to make sure you're setting the standards but you want to make sure everything you're doing is best for the team," Tolman said.

"Everyone that's playing is a professional athlete, they all know what it takes to play first grade, but hopefully we can lead them in the right direction. That's our job along with the coaching staff."

Jackson busts through on the right attacking edge

Hopoate's individual performances have shined brightly all year, the Tongan international thriving since switching from fullback to centre in round three.

The 27-year-old has exceeded 100 running metres in all but one match (98m in round four) and leads his team for tackle breaks. Still, he's not satisfied with his output.

"They keep us grounded here. There are always areas we can improve," Hopoate said.

"We sit down with the coach and assistant coaches and see where we can be better. I'm taking each game as it comes and never resting."

Canterbury Bulldogs prop Aiden Tolman.
Canterbury Bulldogs prop Aiden Tolman. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

Most are giving the Bulldogs little chance of beating fourth-placed South Sydney on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium. Not that it bothers Dean Pay's troops.

"There's no pressure on us - we're expected to lose every week. We're excited for this challenge," Hopoate said.

With quality Storm forward Joe Stimson to join the Bulldogs in 2020, the signs are promising out Belmore way.

But a new year is preceded by a gruelling pre-season in the summer heat - and that's something Hopoate joked he can't bear to think about yet.

"It's a long slog from November to March but it is what it is," he laughed. "I've just got to enjoy the next month of footy."

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