Competition - NRL
Round - 21
Teams – Bulldogs V Dragons
Date –  29th of July 2016
Venue – ANZ Stadium
Photographer – Cox
Description –

Lichaa eager for first shot at finals footy

Playing finals footy is nothing new for the Bulldogs, but for Michael Lichaa, this year's post-season will be the first time he gets to test himself on the game's biggest stage. 

Lichaa missed Canterbury's 2015 finals campaign after suffering a serious ankle injury in the Round 23 win over the Titans and is champing at the bit for his shot in this year's finals series. 

"It was disappointing to miss the last month of footy last year, especially because it was my first year at the club and my first proper year in first grade," he told NRL.com. 

"Fingers crossed nothing happens between now and the end of the year because it would be awesome to get my first taste of finals footy.

"It hurts watching from the sidelines no matter if it's Round 1 or the finals. It hurt but I'm sure 95 per cent of players in the NRL have missed important matches throughout their careers so I can't feel too sorry for myself."

After an inconsistent start to the year, the Bulldogs are flying high in fourth spot on the Telstra Premiership ladder with seven wins from their past eight matches. 

While they haven't been as clinical as they'd like, Lichaa said the Bulldogs were playing the sort of footy that suits the finals arena. 

"We haven't been blowing teams away by 50 points. We've been grinding our way to victory and that should have us in good stead for the finals," he said. 

"A lot of people have said certain things about how we're playing or where we are on the ladder, but I don't care if we win the rest of the games this year by one point or 20 because winning is winning."

The Bulldogs have one of the toughest draws imaginable in the lead-up to the finals, with the blue and whites set to take on last year's grand final combatants before squaring off with the 2014 premiers, South Sydney, in Round 26. 

According to Lichaa, it's the perfect preparation for the business end of the season. 

"You wouldn't want to play teams like Melbourne, the Sharks or Brisbane every week because of the toll it'd take on your body, but in saying that it's a great test to have just before the finals," the 22-year-old said. 

"It gives you the chance to see what you need to work on or what's going well for the team before you get to sudden death matches when it's too late."

First up for the Bulldogs is a Broncos side brimming with confidence following back-to-back wins.

Canterbury were far too classy when the sides met in Round 16, racking up a huge 40-14 win, but Lichaa is predicting a vastly improved Broncos outfit this time around. 

"I'm expecting a completely different sort of game," Lichaa said. 

"We obviously played very well that night but they didn't play their best so we're expecting a big game this weekend. 

"They'll be wanting a bit of momentum heading into the finals as well so I think this will be an early taste of what to expect in September."

Canterbury's task will be made even harder by the scary return to form of Broncos five-eighth Anthony Milford, who ran for 171 metres, scored a try and had two assists against the Eels last week. 

"He's a freak," was Lichaa's blunt assessment of the Broncos pivot.  

"It's funny when you see people spraying him or putting him down because people forget that he's only 22. He's unbelievable and I know we'll have to be at our best to stop him. 

"They've got Ben Hunt on the other side and he's a fairly handy player as well."

This article first appeared on NRL.com