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Bulldogs can defy NRL history: Hasler

Coach Des Hasler has faith Canterbury can become the first team to win the NRL from outside the top four as they prepare for Sunday's elimination clash against Newcastle.
Bulldogs can defy NRL history: Hasler
by AAP

By Emma Kemp

SYDNEY, Sept 12 AAP - Coach Des Hasler has faith Canterbury can become the first team to win the NRL from outside the top four as they prepare for Sunday's elimination clash against Newcastle.

No club in the NRL or AFL has won their respective titles from outside the top four under the current finals format, putting the odds firmly against the sixth-ranked Bulldogs going one better than last year's grand final berth.

But Hasler said he was confident his players could draw blood when it mattered most, starting with the elimination final against the seventh-ranked Knights.

"I think the belief is quite strong," Hasler said on Thursday.

"They've played in a grand final before and they've played in a finals series. We've had one of those years that you've all documented pretty well."

That somewhat fractured season has seen the Bulldogs snatch victory from top-four teams only twice - a 32-30 golden point victory over Manly in June to go with trouncing a depleted Melbourne outfit 39-0 in July.

They also lost both their clashes with Newcastle, having copped a 44-8 pumping from the Knights back in May and an 18-12 defeat in July.

But Hasler said regular-season losses had little relevance to the completely different ball game of NRL finals.

"Most sides view it at this stage now in finals, (that) what's happened throughout the year probably doesn't count for much," Hasler said on Thursday.

"Most of the sides prepare and play and react in such a way that they play in the moment.

"Those two games have well and truly gone."

The two-time premiership-winning coach can count in his favour that the Knights have never beaten the same opponent three times in one season.

Playing at ANZ Stadium will also help, given Newcastle haven't won a finals match in Sydney since the 2001 grand final when they defeated Parramatta 30-24 for the title.

Hasler prepares to field a near full-strength side after giant forward Sam Kasiano and elusive fullback Ben Barba made their returns from long injury layoffs last week.

He admitted Barba was suffering from "general soreness" off the back of last Thursday's shock loss to Brisbane, but said last year's Dally M Medal winner would probably get through on adrenaline.

"He's one of those players. He's a bit like a Brett Stewart, he's a bit like an Inglis, he's a bit like a Billy Slater, and all those players have ... that X-factor," he said.

More serious injury clouds are circling for forwards Frank Pritchard and Greg Eastwood.

Knee and groin problems threaten Pritchard's return following two weeks' suspension for a shoulder charge while Eastwood is still recovering from a broken hand.

"They're a very good chance of not playing," Hasler said.

"We've got the Sunday game so we'll give those players as much time as we can. But we want to take in a strong squad.

"Sam Kasiano came through well last week. So we've got a lot of experience."




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