NSW’s breakthrough State of Origin triumph has been identified as the catalyst for Canterbury’s premiership surge.
When the gruelling State of Origin period took hold of Canterbury midway through the year, coach Des Hasler held onto hope that his team would eventually reap the benefits of NSW’s breakthrough victory.
Provided the Bulldogs could sneak into the eight, the experience gained by halves Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds against Queensland was always likely to come to the fore when an NRL premiership was going on the line.
That’s what Hasler said way back in early July and Hodkinson’s two clutch field goals in last week’s gripping semi-final win over Manly suggests the master coach has been proven correct.
Hodkinson and Reynolds both suffered an Origin hangover of sorts in the back half of the season, and Canterbury limped into the finals in seventh spot.
But the pair have thrived in the pressure games and Reynolds says he and his halfback partner are drawing on their feats for the Blues.
“It’s massive. Last year in a game like that (against Manly), your mind is throwing a million things at you,” said Reynolds.
“You’re tired, you’re fighting demons to keep going and you’ve got to make sure that you’re calm because you’re the one that’s got to set it up (the match-winning plays).
“Myself and Trent are the ones that have to eventually nail it and I feel we’ve improved a little, especially Trent.
“I feel in myself not to always go for the big play. I’m constantly working on little things in my game to improve it and be up there with the best.”
Hasler was reluctant on Wednesday to heap praise on his halves, describing their performance against Manly as “inconsistent”.
The coach has also had a major influence over the pair coming good at the right time of year.
Reynolds’ discipline had become a problem and he went to Hasler for advice.
Things weren’t going for Hodkinson like they had earlier in the year, and he too sought Hasler’s counsel.
He told both playmakers to stick to what they do best.
Captain Michael Ennis said NSW’s Origin campaign had inspired more than just Hodkinson and Reynolds.
“Tony Williams, Josh Jackson was 18th man and that’s given him a massive confidence boost, and Josh Morris as well,” he said.
“It’s certainly handy for us but we’re up against a (Penrith side) … where Brent Kite has won grand finals, he knows what to do. And so does Jamie Soward.
“It’s pretty level-pegging come Saturday night.”