Regardless of results on the final Sunday of this NRL season, Canterbury have secured their spot in an elimination final for the first week of the playoffs.
Even if Bulldogs coach Des Hasler rests a number of players from the round 26 clash with the Warriors on Sunday night, the hapless New Zealand franchise, who have lost seven games in a row, are expected to offer little opposition.
That leaves this game as primarily a platform for returning Dogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds to find form before the finals.
With Trent Hodkinson and Michael Lichaa gone for the season, the return of Reynolds from a knee injury for his first game since round 20 is key for the Dogs premiership hopes.
Hasler has toyed with various combinations of Hodkinson, Reynolds and Moses Mbye in the halves for much of the season. A finals selection headache taken away from him due to the wrist injury to Hodkinson.
That leaves the 80 minutes against the Warriors at ANZ Stadium as something of a training run for Reynolds and Mbye to work on their combinations before the finals start.
If Cronulla beat Manly in the earlier Sunday game, the Bulldogs will play South Sydney in an elimination final next week in a replay of last year’s grand final.
If the Sharks lose and the Dogs win, Canterbury will host St George Illawarra in the first week of the finals in a sudden-death clash.
Aidan Tolman is another timely return for the Dogs, who have won four straight. He hasn’t played since round 22 due to a hamstring injury.
Tolman said he could have played last week but was determined to get the injury
He acknowledged Hodkinson was a loss for the Dogs but welcomed the return of Reynolds.
“No one here compares to Trent in how he controls a game for us, but having Josh back adds that aggression and you don’t lose too much in regards to our footy,” Tolman said.
“We lost Trent, an Origin half, but Josh comes in as another Origin half and we have to look at that as a positive.
“(Stand-in hooker) Damien Cook has probably been our best the last two weeks so we will see how it goes.”
Dogs winger Curtis Rona could take the gong as the NRL’s leading tryscorer for the season if Canterbury pile on the points.
Rona entered round 26 on 21 tries, one behind leader Parramatta’s Semi Radradra. The Eels host Canberra on Sunday.
*Canterbury have won 12 of the last 16 games between these sides.
* Des Hasler has not lost a match as coach against the Warriors since 2009…they are the only team he is undefeated against in that period.
* The Warriors seven straight losses is the equal second worst losing streak in the clubs history, and their past four by 13 or more is their worst ‘big’margin losing streak in history.