Time to look ahead to Sunday's decider! Rob Crosby has a full look at both teams and what to expect ...
35 hours ago
Bulldogs prop Mark O'Meley says the Bulldogs are ready to flex their muscles as genuine premiership contenders.
Despite the Bulldogs moving into the top for the first time this season courtesy of Friday night's win over Brisbane, Manly and the Storm continue to dominate premiership favouritism discussions.
But O'Meley says although the Bulldogs probably don't deserve the same respect, they know they are But in an ominous warning to the Storm ahead of their blockbuster clash at Telstra Stadium on Friday night, Bulldogs prop Mark O'Meley claimed the Dogs were ready to flex their notorious muscle.
"I probably think we don't deserve (the respect) - yet," O'Meley said.
"We know we can play good football but we just haven't been consistent enough yet.
"In saying that we don't really care because we've got a bit of arrogance about us and we know when it's a big game that we always put in a good performance."
Which is exactly why the other teams in contention for the finals may be getting a little nervous. The Bulldogs haven't been at their best on too many occasions this year.
But when they have - like at Brookvale Oval against the Sea Eagles in round 15 - they have proved almost unstoppable. That night the Bulldogs pack pulverised their Manly counterparts in a 27-8 win - the tone set in the pre-game warm-ups when Willie Mason and Sonny Bill Williams flattened an unsuspecting Nick Kouparitsas during a tackling drill.
Coach Steve Folkes said his side would need to bring the same intensity over the next month and a half for the Bulldogs to go all the way.
"We need to be in the right frame of mind leading into a game and that's probably what has hurt us on and off this year," Folkes said.
"When we're on mentally we tend to play really well.
"Semi-finals - if you can't get on for them or if you can't get on for Friday night (against Melbourne) then there's something wrong."
Doubts remain over Mason's availability for Friday night's game, the Test prop still recovering from a dislocated wrist. Mason has said he is desperate to play, but O'Meley wasn't sure if he would have his running mate by his side.
"His mental state is he wants to play this week but the doctors are probably thinking about his long-term health, so I think he might have another week," O'Meley said.
The Storm received a boost today when Michael Crocker was cleared to play, the fiery backrower taking the early guilty plea after being charged with a careless high tackle.
The Bulldogs need to win both of their remaining matches against the Storm and North Queensland to secure a top four berth and with it home ground advantage in the first week of the finals.
They will be hoping for a big crowd on Friday night as well after launching a charity drive today with fans being encouraged to bring tinned food to the game.
It's an initiative being run by the players' wives and girlfriends and in conjunction with the Salvation Army, with all proceeds going to disadvantaged families in the Bulldogs' local area.