Bulldogs must reduce mistakes for finals
The Bulldogs will head into next weekend's elimination final on the back of three straight defeats after they were soundly beaten by the South Sydney Rabbitohs 28-10 on Friday night.
It's a far from ideal situation given they were on track for a top-four finish less than a month ago before back-to-back losses against the 2015 grand finalists took their finals destiny out of their control.
While their ball-handling improved from what they produced against the Cowboys and Broncos in recent weeks, the Bulldogs still turned the ball over 10 times on Friday night, including a knock-on from the kick-off that stalled their momentum.
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler said those sorts of mistakes simply would not cut it against the Panthers in an elimination final next week.
"It was always going to be a tough game," Hasler said following his side's 18-point loss.
"There were patches there that were good but there are parts of our game that we need to address pretty quickly.
"We're not utilising the field position that we get. I think some of the unforced errors that we came up with tonight…we're not going to be able to do them next week. Next week is sudden death.
"I think the energy and the intent that we played with in the past two weeks against the Cowboys and Broncos, the intensity was worthy [of the finals] but that's what we'll need to do [next week]. We'll need to address the area of possession."
Having made the 2014 grand final from outside the top four, Hasler believes his side has the experience and ability to once again challenge for the title; but only if they fix their handling.
"It's all sudden death next week," he said.
"My experience is that it's an entirely different competition. We know what we have to fix. It's pretty obvious and if we do that then there's the capability and the ability in the side to win sudden death games; certainly the experience anyway."
Bulldogs skipper James Graham said the playing group was hurting following Friday night's loss but admitted they had to recover quickly with a finals match just a week away.
The Bulldogs are currently in sixth spot and will fall to seventh should Penrith beat the Sea Eagles.
The Englishman will face a sleepless night after being placed on report for lashing out at Sam Burgess with his boot, but Graham said the focus would be on making the most of their finals opportunity after all the hard work through the regular season.
"When two big clubs come together there's always going to be that feeling about it," he said.
"It was a tough result for us but we find ourselves in a position where we've got a chance.
"We need to get excited. We're all gutted in there about the result and areas of the performance, but we're in there so we might as well give it a crack because we've worked pretty hard to get where we are. We're not going to give up."