CANTERBURY will finalise their preparations for the 2020 National Rugby League season when they host Canberra at Regional Stadium on February 29.
And don't for a second think because the match is on the picturesque Mid-North Coast of NSW that the 'Dogs won't be taking it seriously.
Coach Dean Pay knows it will be their final hitout before they open their campaign against Parramatta at BankWest Stadium on March 12.
"It's going to be our last trial so we'll take the majority of our team to Port Macquarie that will play in round one," Pay told the Port News.
"We need a really good, decent hitout up there so we're taking it real seriously."
Household names such as Aiden Tolman, Adam Elliott and Lachlan Lewis are expected to be named in the squad, but a number of new faces to the blue-and-whites will also make the trip north.
"There will be a lot of the same blokes that played last year and then there's a few new boys that are coming into the team like Joe Stimson and Sione Katoa," the coach said.
"Dean Britt will get a run as well so we'll have the majority of our players there."
We need a really good, decent hitout up there so we're taking it real seriously.Bulldogs coach Dean Pay
Other players such as little-known centre Jake Averillo along with second-rower Ray Faitala-Mariner are two who have impressed the coach during the pre-season.
They are expected to press their claims for a first grade jumper in 2020 although Faitala-Mariner recently suffered an injury setback which could see him sidelined for a few weeks.
"Jake is a good kid and hasn't played first grade yet, but he'll get an opportunity to play some time up there; he's a kid to keep an eye on," Pay said.
"Ray was going really well, but he copped a bit of an ankle injury the other day which you can't do much about."
The coach said the side would look to build on their strong finish to 2019 that saw them win five of their last six matches largely on the back of a solid defensive pattern.
"We got some hard-fought, tough wins at the end of the year and we want to make sure we keep getting better every time we go out on the footy field," Pay said.
"Last season we started to build a few combinations and defended a lot better towards the second half of the year which was quite pleasing.
"We've put a lot of hard work into our defence again this off-season so we're hoping it will come off."
The Bulldogs visited Port Macquarie for a few days during their 2019 pre-season and Pay said they were looking forward to another trip to the Mid-North Coast.
"We're going up on the Tuesday so we're going to spend a bit of time up there; we really enjoy going up there," the coach said.
"The locals are more than welcoming so it's good to go away."
Tickets are on sale now at Port Macquarie Panthers reception or online at portmacquarie.panthers.com.au.
Grandstand seats are $35, general admission is $20 and children under-16 are free.
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