Its an odd feeling, as I pull on my jersey and gear up for this one. Like preparing to catch up with a long-lost ex-girlfriend, after years without contact, knowing full well that theyre not who you originally thought they were.


You also know that this time around, theyll be with somebody else somebody who you know has enough money to keep them happy, from that side of town that doesnt know the value of a dollar.


Its like preparing to meet with two people who, frankly, you dont like very much.


In The Greatest Game Of All, its quite rare that we can look forward to an event so much, for such a long period of time. Build-ups to Grand Finals, State of Origins, test matches and much-hyped club games typically only last, at most, twelve months since the last meeting. But tonight will be different. Because tonight a rivalry five years in the making will finally come full-circle. And that, Im sure youll agree, is Something Bloody Wonderful.


It should be noted that those five years have never been about the players, but the fans the very family that was left hurt, legs between our tails, and at the bottom of the NRL ladder in 2008. With no current players or coaching staff from that era, the on-field rivalry has been played down by both camps, but to think that we in the stands have forgotten would be a mistake. So while it will be important to uphold our own proud image tomorrow night, dont expect the blue-and-white family to embrace our collective ex-girlfriend with open arms. We might just leave the embracing to our forward pack.


What no one has lost sight of, however, has been the two competition points on offer at the end of what will be an intense eighty-minute battle. With a depleted roster for at least another four weeks, The Bulldogs will be looking to improve on attacking combinations and defensive grit that will be needed when fatigue and injury really hits in the back end of the season: as usual, our performance will be more focused around us than around them (or that attention-loving ex-girlfriend). And based on our performance against Manly last week, theres much improvement to be had.


To begin with, it comes as no surprise that our big men in the middle will have to lift, especially in attack: we were severely down on both offloads and overall metres gained last Friday, which will not win a football game against even the Parramattas of sides. After showing glimpses of brilliance in his return match against The Rabbitohs another gruelling, but more evenly-matched forwards battle Ben Barba wasnt afforded the room last week to look nearly as dangerous. Our go-forward will be the most significant factor in how critics assess Barbas 2012 form.


Much has also been made of T-Rexs performances this season, but with a few early balls, combinations with Reynolds, Barba and Perrett and by limiting his flat-footed involvement, everyone is aware of his capabilities. Hell be the biggest, strongest, fastest and, with 89 games,

the most NRL-experienced Williams on the park tomorrow night, and if hes to make the right attacking choices, can go a long way to clinching victory.


With Greg Eastwood returning and Frank Pritchard being moved back to the bench, Des has secured some added impact from the sidelines but in doing so, he may have put some pressure on Williams to prove his worth on the field early. How Hasler handles his bench may also be a deciding factor at Allianz Stadium.


Another interesting move has been the last-minute inclusion of Trent Hodkinson, largely known as our star NSW Cup halfback for the past twelve months. With a deep talent pool in the halves, the decision of who to choose for first grade has long been a dilemma that any coach would like to have, and Hodkinson has stated his case over a prolonged period of time. It will be interesting to see how his long-range kicking game and strong defensive efforts will affect our performance, as well as how long it will take Hodkinson to re-familiarise himself with the faster pace of first grade. Also under added pressure to perform, his inclusion can only be seen as an opportunity for himself and the team as a whole.


Generally speaking, I have been impressed with our determination and obvious potential in the first five weeks of competition and, aside from some soft tries conceded in both Rounds One and last week, our defence hasnt been of too much concern. But whether we can rise to occasions such as tonight will pose our biggest question so far. And in front of a huge, fired-up, mostly blue and white crowd, there will be no shortage of motivation. Expect a tough, running-based game tonight, as we begin to truly reignite our form of 2012.


I may have been saying it for five weeks now, but be assured that Josh Morris will finally cross the chalk for the first time in 2013 a vintage Ben Barba assist will send him over for the nights first points. In addition, our money-hungry ex-girlfriend will be sent off after an illegal shoulder charge early, and Allianz Stadium will bear witness to a good old-fashioned Bulldogs-over-Roosters thumping. Well, one can hope. My educated tip? The Blue-and-Whites to get home by six.


Simon Masterton.