HE’S spent the previous two seasons at the helm of the llawarra League’s most prized scalp, so Dapto captain-coach Michael Henderson is enjoying the chance to head into this year’s finals under the radar.
The Canaries were undefeated minor premiers en route to the ultimate prize in 2016 and also finished last season at the top of the ladder before ultimately going down to Collegians in the decider.
It’s been a bumpier ride through the 2018 campaign, with a 36-8 loss to Wests three weeks ago putting paid to their hopes of a top two finish three rounds out from the end of the season.
It prompted many observers to out a line through them as contenders but Henderson said his side still has an unwavering belief about their title claims.
“Plenty of people have written us off already and we probably deserve to cop a bit of criticism with how inconsistent we’ve been all year,” Henderson said.
“We haven’t played well enough or consistently enough to be anywhere near the top two. We are where we deserve to be.
“We’ve won games we should win but we’ve lost basically every game where we’ve been in a tustle. But it’s a different game come the finals and we’ve all got plenty of belief in each other and plenty of experience there.
“We’ve got some young guys that have come in and really hit some form now and some combinations are building. I know there’s some hungry boys in our side.
“Whoever goes in with the momentum, the form and the healthy roster, anyone can beat anyone. Favouritism and what’s happened in the past means bugger all.”
Not being in the top two fight has allowed Henderson to play the long-game in preparation for what’s a certain minor semi-final appearance in week one of the finals, with the heavy loss to Wests shaping as a turning point.
The Canaries have since managed a convincing 54-4 win over Helensburgh and Saturday’s 46-4 win over Berkeley ahead of this weekend’s final-round match-up with Corrimal.
“It wasn’t a polished performance but we’ve taken some steps in the right direction the last two weeks,” Henderson said.
“The way we were touched up against Wests was exactly what we deserved and it’s going to serve us well. We’ve realised that we can’t just coast through games and think we’re going to get the job done.
“We had a bit of a look at ourselves and our standards on and off the field have really improved. We’ve only had two tries scored against us the last two weeks which is the pleasing thing.
“Sometimes you can get in games and your standards drop and we’ve got to be disciplined with that and keep improving our standards because they haven’t been where they need to be.
“Our attitude’s been good and it needs to keep improving because we’ve got one more game then she’s all on.”
Elsewhere, Wests put themselves in the box seat to claim the minor premiership with a 24-10 win over Helensburgh at Parrish Park.
The Devils have the bye this weekend but Thirroul would need to beat the Tigers handily in their final-round clash at Rex Jackson Oval to leapfrog them.
The Butchers accounted for Corrimal 42-4 and can seal a major semi-final berth with a win over Helensburgh.