Bulldogs hope for Belmore Encore
Just a month after one of the most parochial crowds ever seen at a rugby league game rode Canterbury to a dominant win over the Storm, Bulldogs players are hoping for an action replay to help them over the line against the Sharks on Sunday.
Four weeks ago in Round 16 the Bulldogs surged to a 20-4 win over Melbourne on a Monday night in what was the first top-flight rugby league game at Belmore Sportsground in 17 years; this Sunday Cronulla visit to make it two games in four weeks.
And with the sixth-placed Bulldogs and eighth-placed Sharks level on 22 competition points the importance of the fixture in terms of both clubs' seasons is not lost on the players.
The crowd of 16,764 in Round 16 was officially a sellout but it is expected to be superseded on Sunday as players and club look to squeeze in every possible body for the venue's second and final match of the season. With barely a dozen purple jerseys visible among a sea of blue and white on the night it was also one of the most one-sided crowds seen at a match in living memory.
Canterbury fullback Brett Morris said he is hoping for a repeat on Sunday.
"Playing that game for Melbourne was a big event; you could see during the week, the whole build-up, the place was buzzing... running out there, it was a crazy atmosphere," Morris said.
"For a smaller ground it was unbelievable, it was just as loud as playing at some of the bigger stadiums. The fans were going crazy. We put a lot of points on early and got the crowd right into it. It was pretty awesome."
Canterbury raced out of the blocks that night as the forward pack, and most notably David Klemmer, bent the Storm line back and the side raced to a 16-0 lead in 13 minutes. But with crowd favourite Josh Reynolds warming the bench even the most dominant of performances wasn't enough to stop the crowd chanting his name and they cheered as one at his eventual introduction inside the final quarter of the match.
"When Josh Reynolds came off the bench they were going crazy. It's certainly one of those things you enjoy as a footballer being part of," Morris said.
"We saw how much they love Josh Reynolds at the Bulldogs, he's almost the next Terry Lamb coming through.
"It's great he gets a chance to play in front of the Belmore crowd again. He is looking forward to it, growing up in the area and living around the corner. He loves going out there and putting the Doggies jersey on."
Brett's twin brother Josh Morris noted the importance of this Sunday to both Canterbury and Cronulla.
"We're both inside the eight. We need to get that consistency in the finals of winning games and we have a tough draw. Every win is vital," Josh said.
He added the chance to return to Belmore was making some recent greats of the club – who never got the chance to run out at Belmore – jealous of the current playing group.
"Speak to Luke Patten and 'Bobcat' [Ryan] and they were so jealous of us being able to run out in front of a crowd at Belmore," he said.
"It was a massive honour to do that. The crowd was awesome. I've never seen such a one-sided crowd. It gave the boys a boost and the crowd will be even bigger on Sunday."
Morris's opposite centre Tim Lafai described the Belmore crowd in Round 16 as one of the best he's played in front of.
"It was something special [and I'm] looking forward to playing on Sunday. It was such a different atmosphere, having the crowd that close to the game," Lafai said.
This article first appeared on NRL.com