Grand Heartbreak Still Lingers for Bulldogs
Nine players from the Bulldogs side that played in the NRL decider two years ago – 10, if you include injured skipper Michael Ennis – will again take the field on the first Sunday evening in October.
For seven of them, it was their first taste of the blur that is NRL Grand Final Week.
Not that we speak from any first-hand experience, but we'd hazard a guess that those final seven days of the NRL calendar go by quicker than a Greg Inglis line break – before you know it, it's all over red rover and it's time for pre-season.
But there are moments at the Big Dance that leave a lasting impression on players; stills in time that these combative participants never forget.
Like the pure ecstasy felt when the full-time siren rings and you've completed the childhood dream of winning a premiership.
Or, in the Bulldogs' case in 2012, the heartbreak that comes with losing one.
"It was pretty shattering," prop Aidan Tolman tells NRL.com. "Especially because we were playing against Melbourne and it was my old team. In a way, because they had won it, it was better than somebody else I suppose.
"I remember the siren and just looking around and just going, 'What happened?' Melbourne played really well, but that game was probably the worst we'd played for a while. They pressured us into playing like that. That's a grand final.
"Two years on we've got a chance to play in another one."
Some, like three-grand final vet Sam Perrett, won't even entertain the idea of that grand final pain driving him when the big day comes again.
"The thing that's motivating me most is getting a premiership," he says. "Sure, I'll take lessons from the past and the opportunities that they were, but I'm not driven by losses that I've had in the past. I'm driven by getting a title and winning. That's my motivation."
While others, like Josh Reynolds, embrace the sting like it's an enemy. Keeping it closer than all of his friends.
"It definitely is a motivator," he says. "I think back to it now, and I think about the week. I think, 'How did I take the week?'
"I was very excited, as I am now. But I feel I can deal with it a lot better this time. I don't feel as edgy. I'm not as nervous about it.
"I know it's a big occasion [but] because of what I've been through this year, because of what I've done this year, I feel I can have a bit more of an impact on the game.
"And that's the same as the boys. It hurts so much to go through a season and lose right at the end. I remember sitting on the ANZ [Stadium] floor, just thinking to myself, 'How can this happen?'
"I definitely don't want that to happen again."
Of the 467 players who brought you rugby league this year, only 34 have the chance to play on the NRL's biggest day. And Tolman knows it's an opportunity that many players never get.
"You just never know when you're going to get that opportunity again," he says.
"I've been lucky enough – this is my third one, so I've won one and lost one and I know the feeling when you win is a lot better than when you lose. Hopefully if we play good footy on the weekend, everyone else will know what it's like."
This article first appeared on NRL.com