Parramatta and Canterbury harbour one of the most colourful, intense and incident-packed club rivalries in the NRL. The Eels and Bulldogs grappled for supremacy throughout the 1980s, winning four premierships apiece – including one Grand Final victory each over the other – while who could forget the epic individual battles between halfback maestros Peter Sterling and Steve Mortimer?
After a decade in the doldrums for Parramatta, the rivalry ramped up again when the Super League war broke out following the Eels’ controversial capture of a quartet of Bulldogs internationals. Canterbury enjoyed glorious revenge, however, in an unforgettable preliminary final comeback in 1998. The Dogs trailed 18-2 with 11 minutes remaining, but drew level with three late tries before surging to a 32-20 win in extra-time.
The rivalry simmered away during the 2000s despite the absence of notable big games – aside from the Eels’ 25-6 semi-final elimination of the Bulldogs in 2007 – until the clubs were pitted against each other in a feverishly anticipated preliminary final in ’09. The Jarryd Hayne-inspired Parramatta juggernaut took on the second-placed Canterbury side in front of a non-Grand Final record crowd of 74,549 at ANZ Stadium. The match lived up to expectations, with the Eels prevailing 22-12 in a drama-charged classic.
Parramatta has languished at the foot of the ladder since, taking the spice out of the rivalry somewhat in recent seasons – Canterbury racked up four 20 points-plus margin wins over the blue-and-golds between 2010 and 2013. But now the Eels are finals contenders again, while the out-of-sorts Bulldogs are in grave danger of slipping out of the eight. The clubs meet on Friday in what shapes as the game of Round 23, and a season-defining encounter for both clubs – the biggest match between the bitter archrivals in five years. Strap yourselves in!
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