BULLDOGS WARY OF LOOKING TOO FAR AHEAD
Northern Bulldogs coach Sam Brown is stressing the importance of not looking beyond their next 80 minutes as they prepare for Saturday’s sudden-death Canterbury Rugby League premiership semi-final.
The Bulldogs, who finished the regular season in third spot, will start with the favourites tag when they host Eastern Eagles at Murphy Park. But Brown warns his side cannot afford to be thinking about potential showdowns with Massetti Cup heavyweights Linwood Keas and Hornby Panthers.
“It’s something we’ve had to talk about often. We talked about it two games before the end of the season, that we can only focus on one game at a time,” Brown said.
“It’s a do-or-die game and we’re playing for everything, so what happens after this weekend is irrelevant at the moment.”
The fourth-placed Eagles scraped into the playoffs via a clutch 31-16 final-round victory over Riccarton Knights.
The Bulldogs won both of the clubs’ 2019 encounters to date – 28-14 at home in Round 3 and 24-12 at Wainoni Park in Round 10 – but Brown is wary of the danger the Eagles present.
“It would be silly to take them lightly, they are strong across the park,” Brown, a member of the Bulldogs’ historic 2007 premiership-winning side, cautioned.
“It’s a young team, but they’re full of enthusiasm and the two times we’ve played them this season it’s gone down to the wire.”
The Bulldogs are relying on a wealth of experience, an improved defensive resolve and the momentum of five wins in the last six rounds to propel them into a preliminary final against the Keas or Panthers on August 17.
Northern conceded more than 18 points just four times in 14 games during the regular season and kept Papanui and Celebration scoreless in the last two rounds.
“We finished the regular season pretty well,” Brown said.
“It’s definitely something we spoke about before those two games, working on our defence. We achieved that by holding them to zero.”
The coach is counting on halves Izic Placid and Darren Tonihi, who paired up in the Tigers’ 2015 grand final success, and the likes of captain Steven Maat and ex-Eagle Vinnie Paul to help navigate the Bulldogs through the pressure-cooker atmosphere of finals football.
Meanwhile, Northern’s Canterbury Cup side will also play a knockout semi at Murphy Park, squaring off against Hornby to keep its premiers reserves title defence alive. The Bulldogs’ 20-6 loss to the Keas on Saturday allowed Shirley Hawks to leapfrog them into second place.
CRL CANTERBURY CUP MINOR SEMI-FINAL: 1pm, Saturday, August 10 – Northern Bulldogs v Hornby Panthers @ Murphy Park
CRL MASSETTI CUP MINOR SEMI-FINAL: 2.45pm, Saturday, August 10 – Northern Bulldogs v Eastern Eagles @ Murphy Park