HE can only have 15 men on the field at any one time, but Dean Oxley wants as many Bathurst Bulldogs faithful as he can get on the sidelines at Ashwood Park this Saturday.
The coach feels a big, vocal crowd could provide the x-factor as Bulldogs fight for survival in the Blowes Clothing Cup preliminary final against Cowra.
“I’d like to send a call out to the Bathurst community to support us and get us into the grand final,” he said.
“Certainly games we’ve played at home this year, like when we beat Emus on Memorial Day, the crowd was well in the game there and the boys lift. There’s no doubt I believe the boys will be energised by the crowd if the crowd can get behind them.”
Bulldogs have certainly impressed at home this season as not only have Oxley’s men gone undefeated through eight games, but averaged an impressive 44 points for and just 14 against.
Their two prior meetings with the Eagles at the venue were big wins as well – taking out the season opener 47-7 then winning 41-10 at Ashwood Park in round six.
Still, as impressive as that record is, Oxley knows it will count for nothing if Bulldogs exit the title race on Saturday afternoon.
He would dearly love another shot at Orange Emus, the side which beat his men 28-19 in last weekend’s major semi-final and gave Bulldogs a lesson in how to play when a grand final spot is up for grabs.
“We can’t rely on that record, all bets are off and Emus really showed us how to play the intensity of semi-final football. It’s one thing to try and prepare the boys mentally, but they have to go out there and be aware of what will happen,” Oxley said.
“We need to find that edge this weekend in a different competition to the round games.”
Bulldogs will have one change to the side which played last Saturday given Alex Weal has been ruled out under the blue card concussion rule. His spot at flanker will be filled by club captain Mark Donnelly.
As for Cowra’s line-up, Oxley expects it to be stronger than the Eagles line-ups they have previously conquered.
“They have a few new faces and they are really building at the end of the season. They had a wonderful win last week where they had a really strong bench, and that’s really something they haven’t had this year due to injuries,” he said.
“They’ve got Chris Miller back who was missing two of our fixtures due to [NSW] Country commitments. So we are not thinking too much about the round games.
“We just have to handle their physicality. They tried to bully us in Cowra when we played the curtain-raiser to the Shute Shield, they really applied pressure to us being a younger, smaller side.
“We also need to back our skill set because our skill set has been scoring us these points throughout the year. Our ball retention against Emus last weekend was not good enough, it was not at a standard which would allow us to win … so we need to maintain possession.”
Saturday’s preliminary final kicks off at 3.15pm.