Desperation is the key to NRL success.

That's the unorthodox proverb for Canterbury players heading into a finals campaign looking to go one better than last year's grand final berth.

But unlike their minor premiership-winning ways of 2012, it's do or die for this year's Bulldogs.

Forced to settle for sixth spot on the ladder, they face Newcastle in an eliminator at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.

"Everyone's going to be desperate," prop James Graham said on Thursday.

"And Newcastle will be as well so it will probably bring out the best in them."

Fellow forward Josh Jackson agreed: "We're definitely playing like it's our last game, because it potentially could be.

"But we're more excited than nervous."

The squad returns to near full-strength after giant forward Sam Kasiano and elusive fullback Ben Barba made their returns from long injury layoffs last week.

"They'll be good there for us," Jackson said.

"Benny's one of those blokes who can tear a game open."

Canterbury lost both their clashes with Newcastle this season, having copped a 44-8 thumping in May along with an 18-12 defeat in July.

On and off-field tribulations have ensured a less-than-smooth passage to the finals.

Injuries and suspensions ravaged them in the early weeks, while the dramas surrounding 2012 Dally M Player of the Year Ben Barba created distracting headlines.

A mid-season streak of seven wins from eight games propelled them up the ladder, though they lost three of their last five including a shock loss to Brisbane.

Coach Des Hasler was scathing over his squad's sloppy display against the Broncos during which they completed only 65 per cent of sets, something Graham conceded was an issue.

"(It's) probably not just this week, probably for a majority of the year to be honest," Graham said.

"We know we need to improve our ball control and we're going to have to complete a lot better than what we did (against Brisbane)."

But Graham was determined none of it has dampened belief they can still take home the premiership against the odds.

"On the league table it says that we're not (the best performed) but I think the belief in this team, without getting too far ahead of ourselves going past this Sunday, we believe there's no reason why we can't go all the way."

 

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