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Canterbury Bulldogs coach Steve Folkes is desperate for his charges to revive their ailing National Rugby League season tomorrow night against the New Zealand Warriors in Wellington.
After being installed as overwhelming competition favourites, the Bulldogs have plummeted to 10th place with three wins from seven matches, eight points adrift of unbeaten leaders Canberra.
Last Saturday's 26-22 loss to Canberra was their third consecutive defeat, and after a disruptive week, not helped by yesterday's flight from Sydney to Wellington, the Bulldogs were hurting.
While disappointed with Saturday's result, Folkes said it was the Bulldogs' best performance for weeks after a tendency to drop their intensity in the second half.
He said they were within a whisker of victory.
"One good win would turn our season around and the sooner it comes the better," Folkes said to League Correspondent.
"We've already lost to the Warriors this season so we're pretty keen to reverse the result."
This will be the third time the Bulldogs have played their "home" game against the Warriors at Westpac Stadium. They have had a draw and a win.
Folkes discounted suggestions their disappointing run was a result of being found guilty of breaching the salary cap last year, and the likelihood that in trying to stay within it they would lose a number of good players at the end of the year.
"We didn't start well. There were a lot of expectations on us," Folkes said.
"Being made favourites didn't do us any favours."
Folkes said 11 players were off contract this year, and he acknowledged the club would not be able to retain them all.
Kiwis centres Nigel Vagana and Willie Talau are among the players who face uncertain futures and are sure to be targeted by other clubs.
Talau, who will miss tomorrow night's game with a knee injury, has been linked with English club St Helens.
Last week Bulldogs chairman George Peponis was quoted as saying the club had told the players they could not afford "extravagant money" but he believed most of them would want to stay.
Among the Bulldogs who pleased Folkes against Canberra was the towering Auckland-born prop Willie Mason, who last year played for Australia though he qualified for the Kiwis.
"Willie made a vast improvement after coming off two shockers," Folkes said.
"The front row suits him better at this point than second row."
Folkes said brilliant five-eighth Braith Anasta was a little nervous captaining the Bulldogs last weekend in place of the suspended Steve Price. He would encourage Anasta to run the ball more tomorrow.
The Bulldogs will train this morning at the stadium, concentrating on ball rather than physical work so close to the game.
The Warriors do not arrive in Wellington until tonight, preferring to complete their preparations in Auckland.