Taking league to the bush
ON the eve of the historic Bulldogs versus Storm match in Mackay, Canterbury captain Mick Ennis has encouraged other NRL clubs to also play matches in regional Australia.
"It's a really exciting time in the game to be able to bring the game up to Mackay," Ennis said. "Obviously being Dane (Nielsen's) and Ben (Barba's) home town that in itself will generate a lot of interest.
"It's an area of the NRL where I think we can definitely improve. I hope other clubs also try and take the game to country areas.
"Country football is so important; so many guys in the NRL come from country areas ... whether it's NSW or QLD.
Ennis, in his first year of captain at the Bulldogs, said it had been tremendous to see the improvement in his side.
"Our form this year has been a real shared combination among the group," he said. "Different guys are pulling their weight in different ways during matches and that's the most pleasing thing for me as captain."
Ennis said the inclusion of forward James Graham and the arrival of coach Des Hasler has added a real steel mentality to the club.
"There's a certain style of footy week-to-week that Des likes us to portray and blokes in our side are accountable to that," he said. "Des is terrific at encouraging guys to play their own games and guys like James Graham, have brought a certain style with him.
"Dessy encourages him to play a physical game but he also gives the younger guys like (Kris) Keating (Josh) Reynolds and (Ben) Barba leeway to play the types of games they are each good at."
Ennis said Hasler has also had a strong influence on his own game this season.
"I'm playing a different style of footy this year and I'm really enjoying it," he said. "He's been really good; he is a really quality person Des and at 28, in this middle part of my career it's a real blessing to have someone like him and the staff he has surrounded us with to learn from."
Ennis had a disrupted pre season with a troublesome knee injury but said he still harboured ambitions to claim further Origin honours.
"I definitely still want a future Blues jumper. I just had a slow start to the year coming off a rough pre season and it took a while to find my feet," he said.
"The last six to eight weeks there has been some improvement in my game and the knee injury has really improved.
"I would dearly love to get that Blues jumper back but for me at the moment it's really enjoyable playing at Canterbury."