They’re the three players who have led the Bulldogs to a top-four finish – and even the coach doesn’t know why his standout trio are yet to be elevated to the top grade.
All three arrived at Belmore in 2017 and all three have since performed strongly to be selected in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW Team of the Year. There’s Josh Cleeland, the flashy five-eighth who makes broken defences pay; Rhyse Martin, the PNG second-rower who runs well off Cleeland and calmly converts from all areas; and Rod Griffin, Martin’s Kumuls teammate who at 30 years of age, has had one of his most consistent seasons yet. In a disappointing season for the Bulldogs’ NRL side, however, none have earned the call-up from Des Hasler this season – which his understudy Steve Georgallis could not explain.
“I’m disappointed that they didn’t get a first grade run this year, but I’ve told all three of them that they’re definitely of first grade standard,” Georgallis tells NSWRL.com.au. “Hopefully next year they will (play NRL).”
Many fans, like the Intrust Super Premiership NSW coach, have been a loss to explain why more players have not been blooded in the top grade this year; Cleeland in particular has been heavily backed for an NRL start. Reports of salary cap pressure have circulated recently, which Georgallis could not confirm.
“To be honest I have no idea,” Georgallis says, “but it’s always been up to the head coach to decide what players he uses and where he wants to use them.
“All three deserve their (Team of the Year) awards because they’ve been probably my three most consistent players in the last 12 weeks – and probably one of the reasons why we’ve gone on that winning run. Rod’s been a tower of strength in the middle of the field, ‘Joshy’ Cleeland and Rhyse Martin have got a really good relationship going and Martin’s goalkicking’s been unbelievable, he’s kicking them from the sideline consistently.
“All three are playing some really good football.”
Until next season the trio must continue to ply their trade in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW, with a big finals series set to kick off between the Bulldogs and Wyong Roos at Allianz Stadium. Saturday’s clash will be the next instalment in the Bulldogs-Roos matchup, which delivered a golden-point thriller on the same weekend last year and a draw earlier in 2017.
“The players have talked about the fact that they thought they should have won that game last year in the finals,” Georgallis adds, “and we’re also of the opinion that we were very unlucky not to come away with the win when we had that draw (in Round 11).
“Obviously they’re a much better team now and so are we, so it’s going to be a good game.”
The clash will be broadcast live on Fox League from 12:40pm AEST on Saturday, when Cleeland, Martin and Griffin will look to earn their side a week off and a place in the preliminary finals. If recent history is to go by, there won’t be much between Georgallis and Rip Taylor’s respective sides.