ISP PREVIEW | Panthers v Bulldogs
To be the best, you've got to beat the best – so says the old adage.
Match: Panthers v Bulldogs
Finals Week 1 -
Venue: Panthers Stadium
The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs head into this Saturday's first Intrust Super Premiership NSW Qualifying Final against the Penrith Panthers with plenty to play for, not least a spot in Week Three of the finals series.
But to ensure consecutive Preliminary Final appearances after reaching the Grand Final qualifier last season, the Bulldogs will have to reverse the recent trend.
Standing in front of them, the competition's premier team.
The Panthers – defending champions in the ISP – had accrued 38 competition points on their way to the minor premiership this season. Twice this year have Steve Georgallis' side met Penrith, and walked away with nothing.
LAST TIME THEY MET | ROUND 15, 2018: Panthers 18 def. Bulldogs 16
Add in the fact the added mental edge the hosts hold. The Panthers cut short the Bulldogs' title dreams last season, when the eventual-premiers edged the 'Dogs 16-12 in the 2017 Preliminary Final.
"You'd be mad not to [use the 2017 exit as motivation] ... the players think about it, more than half the team we have here now were here last year," Georgallis tells NSWRL.com.au.
"It's a funny thing – last year (in the regular season) we beat them twice, but they beat us in the Preliminary Final. This year, they've beat us twice... hopefully things turn around.
"They're tough, they play a very physical game, they don't give you too much. You've got to earn everything."
The Bulldogs head into the ISP NSW Finals having won six of their past seven matches, the only defeat a one-point, 15-14 loss to the Dragons in Round 21.
And should the Bulldogs progress through to Week Three of play-offs with a win against Penrith, they will be boosted by the return of a host of ISP-turn-NRL-regulars in their next match.
Lachlan Lewis, Rhyse Martin, Ofahiki Ogden and Reimis Smith will bring with them recent first-grade experience. More importantly though, success at the NRL level, also.
"It's more the point that they're playing consistent first-grade, and once they've got their start, they haven't looked back," Georgallis says.
"They see themselves as first-graders now, and so they should. I'm happy for them.
"For us though, it's been hard in that seven-week block not having the same halves, hooker and fullback, to build those combinations heading into the finals."
But while the Bulldogs have faced – and overcome – the challenges thrown at them this season, so too have the Panthers.
Debuting more NRL players than any other ISP NSW outfit this season, the 'next man up' mentally instilled throughout the Penrith club holds the second-tier side in good stead.
"It's a tough one. Both teams have players out, but [Penrith has] shown why they've been the best team in the competition – they make do without their (best) players," Georgallis says.
"But we're not too far away... If you make the top four in the ISP, suddenly it's an all-new competition.
"I reckon anyone in the top four can win on their day... I'm very confident, we've put ourselves in a good position to go all the way."