The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will have to reverse the trend of their 2018 season if they are to beat St George-Illawarra Dragons in the sides' Preliminary Finals clash, when the pair meets at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday, 16 September.
Match: Dragons v Bulldogs
Finals Week 3 -
Venue: Leichhardt Oval
Despite having won seven of their past nine matches heading into the Dragons showdown, the Bulldogs have found tough work in the form of their fellow 'top four' counterparts throughout the 2018 season.
From seven matches played against the Dragons, Penrith Panthers and Newtown Jets this season, the Bulldogs have not won a match – their record reading zero wins, seven losses.
It's a damning statistic for the 'Dogs, and one that must change quickly, if their hopes of a break-through premiership are to come to fruition.
The 2018 Preliminary Finals appearance is the Bulldogs' third time into the competition's penultimate week in the past four seasons. But it has been a case of so near, yet so far for the club – unable to make a Grand Final since they last took out the competition in 2011.
Set to again be bolstered by the inclusion of their NRL contingent in Rhyse Martin, Matt Frawley and Greg Eastwood this weekend, the Bulldogs side to run out onto Leichhardt Oval will be one far stronger than the one sighted across much of the regular season.
In other team news, fellow Bulldogs ISP-turn-NRL-regulars Reimis Smith and Lachlan Lewis are also eligible to play in Sunday's Preliminary Final, though the pair were not named by Steve Georgallis on Tuesday.
Despite a Finals Week One loss to the Panthers, the Bulldogs steadied in their title tilt with a win over the Wyong Roos last Sunday – but they will have to improve again, to knock over the in-form Dragons.
Triumphant in their past four outings, St George-Illawarra will be minus ISP-regulars Hame Sele and Zac Lomax for the Bulldogs clash, with the pair set to feature in the club's NRL Semi-Final against South Sydney on Saturday.
The Dragons and Bulldogs have met twice already in 2018, with only the barest of margins to separate the sides on both occasions.
In Round 10, the trusted boot of Darren Nicholls kicked the Dragons one point clear of the Bulldogs to seal a dramatic come-from-behind victory for Mat Head's men.
And so, would it again when the Dragons and Bulldogs met later in the season. Trailing 14-8 to the Bulldogs in Round 21, Nicholls converted Reuben Garrick's try before potting a field-goal with under 10 minutes to play, edging the Dragons to the final 15-14 scoreline.
And while there stands enough reason for the Bulldogs to rally in the hope of 'getting one back' over the Red V, don't count out the Dragons using recent history as a source of motivation in quest for a premiership in 2018.
Looking to be the first team to win back-to-back Intrust Super Premiership (nee-NSW Cup) titles since, ironically the Bulldogs of 2010-11, Illawarra RLFC's (now Dragons') 2017 season was cut short by Canterbury-Bankstown in the sides' Semi-Final clash at Jubilee Oval.
Tune in to FOX League's coverage as St George-Illawarra square-off with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs for a place in the 2018 Intrust Super Premiership NSW Grand Final. Kick-off from 5pm, AEDT. Check local guides.