A fit Kieran Foran shapes as the missing piece of the Bulldogs puzzle after the classy five-eighth engineered a come-from-behind 22-16 win over the Titans on the Gold Coast on Saturday afternoon.
In his second game back after missing five weeks with an ankle injury, Foran laid on two tries for winger Jayden Okunbor and another for centre Marcelo Montoya as Canterbury recovered from a disastrous start to inflict a fourth straight loss on the Titans.
It elevates the Bulldogs a win clear of the Titans and Panthers at the foot of the Telstra Premiership ladder, but with a sense that they can make further progress upwards over the rest of the season.
With tireless workhorses in Josh Jackson and Aiden Tolman, an Origin prop in Dylan Napa and speed men in Okunbor and fullback Nick Meaney, the Bulldogs have many areas covered that make for a competitive football team.
But there is no substitute for class and despite a lop-sided penalty count and self-inflicted wounds due to basic handling errors Foran was able to use a minimum of opportunities to maximum effect.
The former Kiwi half has played just 43 NRL games since leaving the Sea Eagles at the end of the 2015 season. But Bulldogs coach Dean Pay knows what an influence he can have provided they can keep him on the park.
"It's Kieran’s second game back from a nasty injury so he'll be better again next week,” Pay said.
"I thought he was really good for us and had some really good touches.
“He's a quality player and if we can keep him healthy he's only going to be good for our younger guys to lead them around the park and for them to draw on all of his experience.”
Foran’s halves partner Jack Cogger seemed to revel in playing alongside him for the second week in succession and told NRL.com that he has a way of bringing out the best of those around him.
“Even when he was coming back first game back from an ankle injury last week, the confidence he gives to me and all the players around him is massive,” Cogger said.
"He got three try assists tonight and got us right back in the game.
"Disappointing that we let them to get to a good lead against us but we're fairly confident in our attacking ability, that we can haul teams back.
"It would be nice not to have to chase them down but we were confident that we could and we came up with the right calls today.”
Fighting back from a 16-0 deficit against fellow cellar-dwellers, Pay said the reaction of the strong contingent of Canterbury fans on the Gold Coast was indicative of the character shown by the players.
"A win just gives you a lot of confidence and a lot of belief,” Pay said.
"After the limited amount of ball that we had, we defended our goal-line really well and they kept turning up for one another.
"I was really pleased at the end there that they went over and saw our fans over in the corner and they gave them a fantastic cheer.
“I think they (fans) just really appreciated the guts and determination they had to keep themselves in that game.
"We're building towards every performance each week. We want to make sure that we keep progressing and keep putting performances out there that will challenge teams."