Dogs hope to ease Belmore hoodoo
Cast your mind back to June 29, 2015. On an electric evening, the Canterbury Bulldogs trotted out onto their spiritual home patch of Belmore Sportsground for the first time in 17 long years.
The 'Back to Belmore' game drew a pulsating, capacity crowd of 17,000 despite the Monday night billing and, with ferocious prop David Klemmer roaring in off the back fence and a sea of parochial fans in blue and white screaming at the top of their lungs, competition benchmarks Melbourne suffered a good, old fashioned ambush.
Des Hasler's men exploded out of the blocks, smashing their way to a three-try 16-0 lead inside 15 minutes and the match was as good as over.
Fast forward to Round 1, 2017. Canterbury are now winless at the venue in three outings since that victory over Melbourne with Cronulla, Canberra and North Queensland doing enough to take the crowd out of it in a trio of wins over the Dogs.
This Friday night, in the family-friendly 6pm timeslot, the Storm will return for the first time since that 2015 ambush to face a Dogs side suddenly feeling the pressure to recapture the winning feeling at their spiritual home.
For skipper James Graham – who actually missed that win over the Storm through injury so has yet to taste victory at the venue – it's important to give the loyal fans some happier memories.
"It is a famous ground and it's something that's not lost on us players," Graham said.
"When we're in the community and you're speaking to fans it's something they constantly remind you of: 'Oh I used to come to the game on a Sunday afternoon with my dad or my mum or my grandfather' – so there's a lot of nostalgia around the place.
"For us as players in recent times it's one from four and we want to be a part of a more positive memory for this new generation of fans so they can look back."
Graham noted the move towards bigger stadiums in recent years, which puts a question mark on the future of grounds like Belmore and just makes it more important to chalk up some good memories sooner rather than later.
"We want to be part of an experience where fans look back and go 'I took my boy' or 'my dad took me' so that's important to us," he said.
"We're a bit disappointed with the results we've had here recently. We'd love to rectify that anyway, but it just adds a little bit more spice to it with it being Round 1.
"Obviously it's a place where we come and we train every day so it's a place we want to associate with more winning mentality and a more winning record."
Graham refused to buy into how Melbourne might approach the game or whether they may be once bitten, twice shy when it comes to the venue.
"Both teams have changed quite a bit since that game but a similar result would be nice," he smiled.
"It's no interest of mine, Melbourne and their approach. We're preparing for the best possible Melbourne team. We're preparing for them to play at their best and if they don't that's good for us but we're ready for the best Melbourne team."
Canterbury back-rower Greg Eastwood shared his captain's disappointment in recent results at Belmore.
"The guys know we haven't turned up here at our home and been at our best the last few games," Eastwood said.
"The members and fans love it here... it's not going to be easy against Melbourne so we'll have to work hard to get the two points."
Eastwood agreed it seemed to mean just a little bit more at Belmore compared to elsewhere.
"It's a great atmosphere and guys like 'Grub' (five-eighth Josh Reynolds) who grew up in Belmore, it's so special to them. You come here as a kid watching your team play every week. For us we've got to make sure we come out with great effort against Melbourne."