Bulldogs vice-captain Aiden Tolman has come out in defence of his team's form, slamming critics for suggesting they haven't been playing well, with the side having won their past six games ahead of their semi-final clash with the Roosters on Friday night.
Drawing on victories over fellow finalists Brisbane and South Sydney over the past six weeks Tolman said it was a matter of his team playing tough rather than terrible especially with their tight victories over cellar-dwellers Newcastle and the Warriors in recent weeks.
Their hard-fought 11-10 golden point elimination final win over the Dragons last Saturday is another indication of Tolman's defence as he noted he never "felt threatened" by the Red V.
"I don't know who is saying we aren't playing good. I mean we played the Knights in Newcastle on Old Boys Days – and they beat Melbourne by 20 points the week before – so they were obviously a handful," Tolman told NRL.com.
"Look you go through all those games and say we didn't have good opposition but the best thing about this competition is how close it is right from 1-16. Anyone can beat anybody on their day and six games in a row is impressive even if it counts for nothing in sudden death footy.
"We know we have won tough games when we have been under the pump or been behind, and because of that we have to be prepared for anything in the finals. We have to dig deep – it doesn't matter how you get the win, you just have to get over the line."
Coincidentally the last time the Bulldogs lost was against their upcoming opponents in the minor premiers back in Round 21.
In a seesawing affair the Bulldogs came back to regather a six-point lead – after the Roosters shot out to 22-0 early – before eventually losing 38-28, and Tolman said his team can take plenty from their last match up.
"It just shows the fight we have in this team and that we'd never give up. 22 points down against the Roosters, there aren't too many teams who would come back like we did," Tolman said.
"I wasn't playing that night but the boys dug deep and the Roosters were lucky enough to get the win in the end, but on the flipside of that letting a team score 22 points in a game isn't good enough.
"I don't think it'll happen again so for us it's about starting strong and coming out of the blocks hard to match their intensity."
For Tolman personally, the 26-year-old said his recent injury woes are well and truly behind him.
After missing five games with two separate injuries to his hamstring at the backend of the season Tolman ensured no such complaints would hold him back in the finals after a dominant performance against the Dragons over the past weekend.
In an ironman showing that would make even the toughest of front-rowers blush Tolman smashed out 180 metres and 49 tackles in a 71-minute performance.
"There is no problem there for me now. I played a full game against the Broncos [in Round 22] and part of my own bad luck I pushed it too hard and did it again, which was my own fault really," Tolman said.
"It was disappointing to miss the next few games after that but if you look at the other side of coin I'm rested up and feeling fresh."
This article first appeared on NRL.com