THEIR task is simple: win the remaining four games, say a prayer or two, and hopefully coast into the finals. The Goulburn Workers Bulldogs began what they hope develops into a dream run towards the playoffs on Sunday.
The 38-24 win over the Queanbeyan Kangaroos wasn’t quite perfect, but it was enough to maintain Goulburn’s slim premiership chances.
They can ill-afford any more slip-ups from here-on-in and must emulate facets of Sunday’s performance to vie for the top four.
While sitting seventh outright with four matches and a bye to come, the Bulldogs have shown glimpses of title-winning form and can blame their poor standing on two last-second losses.
The Kangaroos came into the Workers Arena fixture undermanned with Aaron Gorrell, the most influential figure in the Canberra Raiders Cup, on the sideline.
The hosts cashed in on the visitors’ misfortune, clocking seven tries to four to take the two competition points.
James Aubusson fancies his charges’ chances of picking up consecutive wins when they tackle the bottom-placed West Belconnen Warriors – a team that conceded 60 points to the Bulldogs in round 7 and 62 to the Yass Magpies last weekend – on Saturday.
Complacency ought not be a problem.
Aubusson faces a selection headache with the unavailability of five-eighth Luke Gray. Fortunately his namesake of no relation, under 20s Raiders squad member Jason Gray, has proved serviceable already this season.
That depth in the halves, coupled with a fully fit and firing forward pack, leaves rival clubs wary of the Bulldogs in the run to the finals.
Whether or not they qualify is another matter.
“We haven’t Luke Gray this week, so it’s not going to be easy,” Aubusson said.
“Given the season we’ve had, if we lose one more, we’re thinking about mad Monday. That should be motivation enough. It it’s not, we don’t deserve to be in the finals.”
The return of the previously abroad Codie Medway airbrushed the Dogs’ left side. Aubusson was also treated to a fully fit forward pack for the first time in 2012.
The result: a clean, skilful performance and a 14-point win over the minor-premiers- in-waiting.
While the result keeps alive Goulburn’s faint title hopes, Aubusson says team unanimously decided to shelve the ‘f’ word.
“We’ve spoken about the finals, and to be honest, we’re not going to talk about any more,” he said.
“It’s important we just keep plugging away and turn up ready to play each week.”
A Bulldogs line-up ready to play is an imposing sight – especially for a West Belconnen line-up that’s leaked 564 points in 13 matches to date.
“We’re back to full-strength, which gives us the luxury of talking about what sort of team we want to play to beat our opponent,” the captain-coach, who bagged a double in Sunday’s 14-point win, said.
“Against the Roos, we picked a big and experienced pack… every one of them did the job.”
A most pleasing facet of the Bulldogs win was their ability to close out the match in the final minutes – twice Goulburn has forfeited matches inside the final 10 seconds.
The hosts kept composed despite trailing 12-6 at the break. Their workmanlike pack and a skilful left edge, comprising Luke Gray, Daniel York, Ben Marmont and Tim Turner, proved a handful, as did the Dogs’ bolstered left aided by the returning Medway, who crossed twice.
The Bulldogs faithful was hardly surprised by the team’s strong showing.
Goulburn has little trouble finding motivation for matches with the big guns. By the same token, they’ve failed to beat eighth placed Tuggeranong and sixth placed Woden in the last two years.
That’s precisely why wooden spoon favourites the Warriors pose a threat.
“We haven’t had a problem getting up for the hard games,” Aubusson said.
“That’s a never problem. We’ve shown at times we’re a really good team… But then again we haven’t beaten Woden or Tuggeranong in two years.”
First grade’s win capped a perfect afternoon for the hosts at Workers Arena.
The reserve graders pilfered their second win in as many weeks, downing the Kangaroos 34-30 in a top-of-the-table clash. The victory is crucial for the Bulldogs seconds, who hang on to top spot from nagging rivals the Roos, Queanbeyan Blues and Woden.
The win guarantees Goulburn, with a bye up its sleeve, a finals berth.
The under 18s are assured of a playoff place, too. The juniors recorded their sixth win of the season and are now seven points clear of the fourth-placed Kangaroos.
Although guaranteed a semi-final showdown, the 18s have much to play for in their final three matches.
Should they win each it’s likely they’ll climb above the Belconnen United Scholars and earn a major semi-final date with the undefeated Tuggeranong Bushrangers, and with it, a second bite of the cherry.
NUMBERS GAME: Mick Dodson wrestles a Kangaroos’ opponent to ground while Nathan Williams and James Aubusson sniff around for an off-load. Photo: Joe Medway.
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