Guts, determination and above all a commitment to work hard for each other took the Kurri Kurri Bulldogs to the top of the Newcastle Rugby League at the start of the season and has kept them in finals contention all year.
However, they were not enough last Saturday to convert plenty of attacking opportunities to breach Central Newcastle’s line in an 18-0 loss.
This Saturday’s clash against Western Suburbs at Kurri Kurri Sportsground is looming as the Bulldogs’ most important so far as their season sits at the crossroads as they answer the question whether they have the depth to be a contender.
Last year’s premiers Macquarie Scorpions, blessed with more depth than most, sit on the bottom of the table as proof of how a season can be cruelled by injury.
Bulldogs coach Ron Griffiths and his squad will be the last to seek excuses, but injuries to key personnel have denied them the chance to field their most attacking combination.
Forwards Peter Cronin and Mick Campton have been huge losses in terms of experience and ability to wear down opponents and punch holes in their lines.
The forward pack has been terrific in standing up in their absence but the wear and tear of playing big minutes takes its toll over the season and no matter how strong the will is, sometimes the body just can’t do what’s asked of it.
Missing star halves Jade Porter and Sam Wooden for large slices of the season has denied the killer punch which turned opportunities into points.
On the few times they have been on the field together the Bulldogs have looked irrepressible in attack.
The players who have moved into the roles have played well, but it has been somewhat of a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul as the class on the outside to benefit from Porter and Wooden’s work is missing.
The eyes of the rest of the Newcastle RL competition will be on Saturday’s game, the sole fixture on the weekend as the other six teams take a well-earned break.
The catch-up game dates back to round seven when the Bulldogs were flying with four wins from six games to sit second on the table.
The unplanned break meant the Bulldogs were without a game for two weeks and wet weather meant they had only one full session on the training track during the period.
They were smacked by the Maitland Pickers 42-6 when they returned to action and have won just one game since, beating Cessnock 14-6 at Kurri.
Just how fickle the footy gods can be is the fact the Bulldogs could be playing for a share of top spot if it hadn’t been for back-to-back losses, one in which they led until the final two minutes, to Lakes at Lakes.