WE'VE got a lot of work to do.
Those were the words of Bathurst Bulldogs coach Tuma Aisake after his side lost its second consecutive Ferguson Cup match, going down 34-10 to the Forbes Platypi at Ashwood Park on Saturday.
While the two-time defending premiers made a strong start to their 2019 campaign with eight consecutive victories, losses to Orange Emus and Forbes in the past fortnight has seen Bulldogs slip from first to fifth on the ladder.
Given Bulldogs have been below strength during that period - on Saturday they were without Central West representatives Edwina Ulberg, Nicole Schneider, Kate Gullifer and Courtney Auld - it is by no means cause to panic.
But Aisake is well aware that his side needs to keep improving if they wish to make it a third consecutive premiership.
"We were missing all our rep girls other than Mel [Waterford], but I'm not giving that as an excuse. We have got the numbers to cover everyone, but like last week we just started flat and didn't improve," the coach said.
"We've got a lot of work to do if we want to make it to those last few games. I think the girls won't like those [defeats], but it just means we have to work hard from now on.
"It will help us when we get players back from injury."
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It took Forbes just two minutes to deal the first blow on Saturday in a passage of play which typified their performance.
Good counter-rucking saw them pilfer the ball, Forbes then quickly putting the ball through the hands of their back line to stretch the Bulldogs defence. Once given some room, the speed and strong fend of fullback Lillyann Mason-Spice saw her cross.
Four minutes later another fend and nice step had Mason-Spice over for her second.
With 73 seconds of the opening quarter remaining - and after a bullocking run from Haylee Lepaio - Bulldogs managed to get on the board via a Georgie Rich try.
That made it 12-5, but it was a rare moment of joy for the hosts.
While Bulldogs put pressure on themselves by conceding penalties - a number of them for off-side - Forbes created plenty of their own pressure through impressive play.
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By half-time Forbes led 24-5 and though Bulldogs did manage a second try with a tick over 10 minutes remaining via Tidarat Nongkhu, the Platypi were well in control.
While defeated, there were still positives for the Bulldogs.
Lepaio once again made good yards up the middle of the ruck, frequently brushing aside would-be tacklers.
Scrumhalf Alicia Carr got through a mountain of work, Kirsten Howard made a number of impressive tackles in cover defence, while Marita Shoulders was solid as she made her first appearance since knee surgery.
They will get a chance to make amends against the Platypi in two weeks, but given what they produced on Saturday, Aisake knows beating them in Forbes will be a challenge.
"They were good, they played very, very well," he said.
"This comp is very close now. It's going be interesting to see who makes the semis, it is getting very serious now. If our girls want to get to the end, they have to start working again."