GUNNEDAH Bulldogs captain Reece Jaeger has labelled Sunday's clash with the Narrabri Blues "do or die" for his side's finals hopes.
Currently sitting in fifth position on the Group 4 first grade ladder, the Bulldogs sit just one win behind the Blues in fourth and three wins behind Werris Creek in third.
Both sides will head into Sunday's game at Kitchener Park off the back of losses, the Bulldogs having gone down in a nail-biter with the Werris Creek Magpies and the Blues a 60-0 defeat at the hands of North Tamworth.
Jaeger said the game would "dictate how our side plays for the rest of the season".
"This weekend's game is do or die for us in terms of finals," Jaeger told the Namoi Valley Independent.
"Basically, I think if we lose this weekend that is the end of our finals hopes.
"It's not the situation we would like to be in, but all we can do is focus on the things we did well in the second half of last week's game against Werris Creek and bring that into this weekend."
After going down in the final 10 minutes of last year's grand final, the Bulldogs have endured a season of inconsistent form and close losses.
"The season has been pretty frustrating at times," Jaeger said.
"We're not making any excuses, but it has been hard for us to train together as a unit regularly this season.
"A lot of that has to do with work, which I think everyone involved at this level can understand.
"But, what's been more frustrating has been when we have trained together, we have trained the house down and not really brought that into the weekend for a full 80 minutes.
"We have had a habit of lapsing during games this season and with how even this competition is, you just can't afford to do that because every side will make you pay."
Jaeger said the Bulldogs would be looking "to play with more freedom" on Sunday.
"I think our best footy comes when we take the pressure off ourselves," he said. "When we play our best footy, I think we can match it with every team in the competition, including Norths.
"For us it is just about playing eyes-up football and playing with a bit of freedom.
"So, we will be looking to play a free-flowing game and have a bit of fun on Sunday."
Sunday's action will begin the ladies league tag game from 11am, followed by the under-18 game at 12pm, reserve grade at 1.30pm and first grade at 2.30pm.