They don't have the wins on the board but make no mistake - this Bulldogs team is a far more competent and competitive outfit than the 2018 version.
They bounced back from their Round 5 horror show against the Dragons with a much better effort last week against the Rabbitohs and might've won with a little more luck.
But coach Dean Pay has been around long enough to know moral victories count for little and the Bulldogs will have too much ground to make up if they don't stay close to the pack through the first half of the season.
The Cowboys entered 2019 with high hopes after last year's train wreck of a campaign. Maybe, just maybe, Saturday's hard-fought win over the Warriors in Auckland will result in better fortune over the coming weeks.
Bulldogs: The Bulldogs will go into the match 1-17. Nick Meaney (finger) and Adam Elliott (concussion) will play. Marcelo Montoya and Renouf Toomaga were the players dropped an hour before kick-off. Bulldogs captain Josh Jackson is aiming for his 50th win at ANZ Stadium. Christian Crichton and Fa'amanu Brown were omitted 24 hours before kick-off.
Cowboys: The Cowboys will start 1-17 with Tom Opacic and Mitchell Dunn the two players dropped an hour before kick-off. Jason Taumalolo was listed in the reserves on Tuesday but will not be returning early from a knee injury. John Asiata will play his 100th NRL game. Corey Jensen and Taumalolo were the two men dropped off the extended reserves list on Thursday.
Dean Pay looks to have found a keeper in 22-year-old prop Ofahiki Ogden, who scored the first try of his NRL career last week against Souths. Judging by his powerful runs, Ogden isn't likely to be overawed in his clash with representative props Matt Scott and Jordan McLean.
For the Bulldogs to win
For all Wayne Bennett's talk about the Bulldogs intentionally trying to slow the game down, their defence against the Rabbitohs is deserving of credit. After conceding a third-minute try on Good Friday, the made it through the final 77 minutes letting just one more four-pointer in. That's something to build on.
For the Cowboys to win
Repeat the desperation and commitment they displayed in their win over the Warriors. That was the Josh McGuire the Cowboys wanted when they lured him north from Brisbane during the off-season. If McGuire can repeat that performance, the rest of the team can't help but follow him.
Brett Kimmorley says
The Dogs were really good defensively last week. We’ve seen that a few times, but we’ve also seen them leak 36-plus points three times this year. That inconsistency hurts. Aiden Tolman was amazing for them last week. The Cowboys were able to find some form, Josh McGuire was great. On the quality of rosters the Cowboys should win. Cowboys by 4
Aiden Tolman was a colossus for the Bulldogs in their eight-point loss to the Rabbitohs. He made 155 metres with the ball and completed 47 tackles (with just one miss). Ofahiki Ogden was the only other Canterbury forward to surpass 100 running metres.
And another thing ...
This is the first game of a four-week stretch in which the Bulldogs have a great chance to move up the ladder. Manly are their next opponent, followed by fellow-strugglers Newcastle the Gold Coast. A four-game winning streak is not beyond the realms of possibility.