BATHURST Bulldogs lost first place on the Blowes Cup ladder on Saturday with their second defeat of the season against Cowra, but coach Dean Oxley still has faith his men can ground the Eagles.
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The Eagles posted a 34-23 win over the Bulldogs in Cowra as a penalty try off the back of a dominant scrum gave them the edge in a match which was an arm-wrestle for much of the 80 minutes.
That added to a 46-31 victory the Eagles recorded over the Bulldogs earlier this year in a match that went down as Oxley's first loss at Ashwood Park as first XV coach.
However, Oxley's belief Bulldogs has what it takes to win this year's Blowes Cup remains.
"They're a young group and I've got all the confidence in the world that they can get this job done, it's about improving and not panicking and sticking together," he said.
"We've been beaten twice now by Cowra and we've got to come up with solutions as coaches and as a team, and we've got to stick together.
"Cowra deserve to be back on top of the table and we have to try and hunt them down now.
"Their forward dominance is very clear for anyone to see, we've just got to work out solutions to try and take them out of the game a bit more than we did today."
Bulldogs had a disrupted preparation for Saturday's top of the table clash and they also had six players backing up from a taxing Country Championships campaign.
But in the first half they stuck with the defending premiers, the lead changing hands more than once before they headed to the sheds at half-time on even terms.
In the second half it was Cowra who enjoyed more possession as they controlled the breakdown and got off their line well in defence.
Number 8 Damien Michael was also strong off the back of the scrum.
It was a Cowra scrum that provided the telling point in the match, drawing a penalty try. Fullback Noah Ryan then added another to put the Eagles further in front.
While the Bulldogs scored late via fullback Joe Nash, his effort adding to Brad Glasson's first half try, the Eagles had done enough to take the honours.
"It was just to-ing and fro-ing, we'd get a penalty and go in front and then they'd create an error on us and get a penalty. Noah their fullback, he played Central West this year, he kicked all of his goals and some of them from the sideline, so he was very good," Oxley said.
"We played without the ball in the second half, they've got a strong kicking game to be honest and they really attacked our ruck. They pressured us at the breakdown and played a strong defensive line."
Still, Oxley said he was proud of the endeavour his side showed against the defending premiers.
He felt Saturday's performance was a marked improvement on their loss to Cowra earlier in the season.
"We had a young front row and I was very happy with the way they played, but at the end there Cowra got a penalty try from their front row dominance and strong scrum," Oxley said.
"The boys were very disappointed and a bit despondent at the loss, they were quite frustrated that they got beaten, but they played a lot better fottball than what they did at Bathurst against them earlier.
"We equalised the scrum for most of the game which was important, we retained the ball far better than what we did in the first round, we didn't have the same amount of mistakes we coughed up against in the first round either.
"So I was really happy with our improvement, now I just want them to stick to the task."
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