This is it, Orange Emus versus Bathurst Bulldogs, the one everyone’s been looking forward to - unless you’ve been living under a rock, of course.
Although Bulldogs’ loss to Forbes last start has taken some of the sting out of the two-week lead-up to the game, there’s no denying Saturday’s round nine fixture is the biggest game of the 2017 Blowes Clothing Cup season so far.
It pits the competition-leading Emus, boasting the best attacking and defensive records in the competition, against the third-placed Bulldogs, who rank second in both those categories.
Mouth-watering, isn’t it?
For Emus it presents a chance to take down another would-be title contender and remain unbeaten at the halfway point of the season.
For Dogs, it’s an opportunity to bounce back from that loss to Forbes and cause a monumental upset, which would blow the title race wide open.
“Everyone in our camp is really, really looking forward to it. We’re preparing for what we think will be the toughest, most physical game of the year so far,” Emus coach Paul Ringland said.
“Bulldogs have been travelling really well and we’re pretty sure that loss to Forbes will make them even more dangerous, they’ll have gone back and re-focused after that one.”
In recent years, Bulldogs have maintained a simple, around-the-corner attacking style.
While undeniably effective – the last time the club missed the finals was 2012, an anomaly – Ringland said he’s certain the Bathurst side will bring something different to the table in 2017.
“With (Bulldogs coach) Nathan Pearce taking over this year I’m sure he’s added something a bit different into their plans,” Ringland said.
“But we haven’t really spoken too much about that, we’re very much focused on ourselves and what we need to do. We’ll just try to adapt to what Bulldogs bring, regardless of what that is.
“(In attack) the focus for us is just to keep doing what we’re doing, working hard and executing our plans.”
While Emus welcome back mercurial five-eighth AJ Sykes – fill-in Mitch Evers returns to second grade – Bulldogs will be without their star playmaker Scott Johnston.
“A club like Bulldogs always has enough depth for a quality player to come in,” Ringland said.
Josh Oxley is the man who replaces Johnston, while Bulldogs also welcome back former NSW Country prop Chris Plunkett. He missed the Forbes loss. Kick-off is 3.15pm at Bathurst’s Anne Ashwood Park.
- ORANGE EMUS: 1 Al Hattersley, 2 Tom Goolagong, 3 Michael Graham, 4 Nick Hughes-Clapp, 5 Harry Hamilton, 6 Andrew Selwood, 7 Jack Marchinton, 8 Rob Thorburn, 9 Sam Green, 10 AJ Sykes, 11 Tom Green, 12 Lachie Harris, 13 Carter Hirini, 14 Levi Russell, 15 Nigel Staniforth ©