TO REMAIN in contention for a Super Rugby playoff berth, the Bulls believe beating rivals the Stormers and Lions will be crucial for their campaign ambitions.

The side from Pretoria returned to training at Loftus Versfeld on Monday following a tour of Australia that ended with just one win from three matches.

The Bulls went Down Under, with just one defeat under their belts. Things looked rosy as they beat the Western Force in their first match. The Bulls looked to be one of the three sides in with a chance of a playoff spot.

However, back-to-back defeats to the Brumbies and Waratahs resulted in Nollis Marais’s team being leapfrogged by the Sharks on the overall standings, joining the Stormers and Lions as the front-runners in the South African conference. Bouncing back is the only thing on the Bulls’ minds, albeit with two tough encounters against the teams leading the two African conferences — the Stormers on Saturday and the Lions next week.

“It’s about taking it game for game, and seeing where we stand at the June break,” Marais said.

“We now play the Stormers and Lions at home, and if we want to be competitive any further, then we have to beat those two sides.”

The team was all smiles on Monday as there were no injury concerns reported from the tour.

Captain Adriaan Strauss, who struggled with a knee niggle after the Waratahs game, trained with the team on Monday. An added boost is the return of trio Grant Hattingh, Burger Odendaal and Warrick Gelant from injury.

“The three guys will train with the rest of the squad (today),” team doctor Herman Rossouw said. “We will see whether they will available for selection after training.”

Winger Travis Ismaiel, who returned home after the match against the Brumbies following a hamstring injury, will also be available for selection this week.

Marais acknowledges that his team were always going to be up against the ropes this season, given the inexperience in the squad.

“We knew it would be a long road for us. We had about 12 guys making debuts for us this year. Our focus has been the new way we want to play and getting better every week. We are going back to Loftus, where we have a good record and proud to play there, where we will play the Stormers. We are going to have to be better and pitch for that game.”

Marais will name his team for the Stormers match on Wednesday.