GOLDEN Square has the opportunity on Saturday to achieve what has only been done twice in the 134-year history of the Bendigo Football League – win five premierships in a row.
The Bulldogs will take on BFL newcomers Strathfieldsaye in the grand final at the Queen Elizabeth Oval.
The power club has won the past four premierships, beating Gisborne by three points in an epic last year, destroying Eaglehawk by a record 135 points in 2011, plus defeating South Bendigo in 2010 (29 points) and 2009 (37).
They can now join Eaglehawk (1894-98) and Sandhurst (1929-34) as the only BFL clubs to have won at least five flags on the trot.
The Bulldogs have been a work in progress all season under new coach Rick Ladson.
Having copped a 61-point belting at the hands of Strathfieldsaye in round two, the golden era looked like it could be coming to an end.
And what a golden era it has been – since 2009 in the first of their premiership years, the Bulldogs have won 88 of 100 games.
Season 2013 was always going to be one of major adjustment for the Bulldogs as they began life after star full-forward Grant Weeks.
How can losing a player who has kicked 451 goals the previous three years not affect your structure?
Weeks had been a goalkicking machine for the Bulldogs before moving to Rochester, but this year they’ve had to scrap for their goals.
Mid-season recruit James Bristow (25) – who has made a massive difference to this premiership campaign since his return in round 12 – and Ladson (24) are the only players who have kicked more than 20 goals.
Overall, the Bulldogs are averaging 11.8 goals per game. Last year, the average was 17.0 per game, with Weeks himself averaging 7.8.
With Ladson, Nick Carter (15 goals), Matt O’Toole (15) and Bristow, there’s plenty of experience in the forward line, while Harry Donegan (15), Hamish Morcom (13) and Josh Filo (13) are young players who can hit the scoreboard.
While the goals may have been harder to come by this year, the no frills Bulldogs’ defence has held firm.
Led by full-back Dale Young, swingman Travis Baird, Sam Wilkie, one of the recruits of the season in Jon Coe, the tenacious Clayton Lloyd, plus the luxury of having Mark Lloyd – the Addy’s Player of the Year - sitting off half-back, the defence has played a major role in keeping the Bulldogs among the elite teams of the competition.
They’ve only had one score above 100 kicked against them – by Strathfieldsaye in round two – while in 10 of their 18 games they have held the opposition to less than 10 goals.
However, as tight as the defence has been this season, it’s the midfield that’s the jewel in the crown for the Bulldogs.
Captain Simon Rosa – third in last week’s Michelsen Medal – Nathan Bell and Jack Geary are as good a midfield trio as there is in the BFL, while Jack Daley has produced a stellar season.
However, when the Bulldogs can also roll the likes of Lloyd, Morcom, Josh Baird, Rhys Bradley and Dale Lowry through the middle, they bat deep.
In the ruck, Matt Compston has battled manfully all season.
The Bulldogs carry a six-game winning streak into Saturday’s grand final and are playing their best football of the season at the right time.
And what they’ve already proven this September is the value of their finals experience.
They beat Eaglehawk by four points in the qualifying final, and two weeks ago came from 34 points down at half-time in the second semi-final against the Storm to win by eight points.
With last week off, plus a bye in round 18, they’ve only had to play two games in the past month, so they will be fresh and hard to beat again on the big stage of grand final day.