Quite impressively, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have won four of their past six matches, moved clear of the race for the wooden spoon and made their fans very proud in the process.
The blue and whites have claimed the scalps of the Sharks, Knights, Panthers and Tigers in that time; teams all grappling for spots in the top eight.
Round 22 presents a similarly challenging and potentially even more difficult task against the fourth placed Rabbitohs on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium. The match also presents something of a conundrum for coach Dean Pay.
An unchanged line-up has been named for the clash and rightfully so after the impressive second half performance against the Tigers last weekend. Whilst all Bulldogs fans are well aware of the rebuild in process and the patience that needs to be shown before the club undoubtedly bounces back to premiership contention, the team is actually in some impressive form.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has proven a shrewd buy and been one of the best performers over the last month. Nick Meaney has handled his shift to the wing with aplomb and was one of the team’s best against the Tigers.
Reimis Smith, Jack Cogger and Chris Smith have continued to provide a sneak peak towards the future and Lachlan Lewis has comfortably eased back into first grade as a new dad and a potential star of the future.
Aiden Tolman, Josh Jackson and Renouf To’omaga have continued to impress in the engine room and the return to form of Raymond Faitala-Mariner has been noted by many astute judges of rugby league form.
All the while, Kieran Foran has worked tirelessly in rehabilitation to recover from a hamstring issue that occurred against the Sharks in Round 15.
It appears the 29-year-old is cherry ripe to play and Pay will be forced to decide late in the week whether he does indeed bust up the halves combination of Cogger and Lewis to accommodate for the inclusion of Foran.
As competent a player as Foran is, I would personally struggle with the logic of his inclusion this weekend. In the 22 matches the former Manly star has managed to accumulate for the Bulldogs, he has never been awful.
In fact, anything but. His performance against the Sharks was outstanding prior to the injury that has kept him off the park ever since. When he has taken to the field in 2019, Foran has been impressive, committed and one of the Bulldogs’ best.
However, this is not the time to re-introduce the New Zealand international back into the fray; a week or two in Canterbury Cup to establish fitness and fluency would be the prudent move for the Bulldogs.
Foran is a contracted player for 2020, despite many fans hoping that the injury prone pivot finds another home prior to next season. Considering the fractured year he has experienced in 2019, that is highly unlikely.
Whilst some might suggest including him in the final weeks of action in an attempt to ‘shop’ him around to other clubs, that to me seems a dangerous and risky approach.
Allowing Cogger and Lewis extended game time, without the risk of another Foran injury will serve the club far better in the long term. A Canterbury team in full flight next season may well have a fit and firing Foran at the helm, yet now is not the time for risk and Pay needs to reward the men who are doing the job for the club at present.
After such a challenging season, the Bulldogs have finally started to take shape over the last month. Messing with what has proven a winning formula is not a wise path to take right now, particularly considering the lessons being learnt by the two young halves who have done a sterling job for the club in recent weeks.
The Canterbury faithful would all love to see Foran in full flight, yet his inclusion this week would be nothing more than a slap in the face for Jack Cogger and Lachlan Lewis.