For this week’s Flashback Friday, we delve back in time a decade to the day to relive the last time the Panthers and the Bulldogs faced off in a preliminary final.
Despite the unsettling Coffs Harbour scandal, the Bulldogs finished the 2004 regular season in second spot. But they took the long way to the prelim final, going down to seventh-placed finals debutants North Queensland in week one before recovering to eliminate Melbourne.
The Bulldogs’ qualifying final defeat opened the door for defending premiers Penrith to take a saloon passage to week three after they withstood an incredible comeback from St George Illawarra. Leading 24-0 during the first half, the fourth-placed Panthers scraped home 31-30 in a match reminiscent of last Friday’s Roosters-Cowboys classic.
In a physical battle for a Grand Final berth – including Sonny Bill Williams’ memorable hit on Joel Clinton – the Bulldogs led throughout, but only ended the plucky Panthers’ challenge in the latter stages of a 30-14 result.
Hazem El Masri netted 22 points from three tries and five goals, while Braith Anasta and Reni Maitua also crossed. Preston Campbell was brilliant for the Panthers and scored a try, but their other try-scorer, Rhys Wesser, also spent 10 minutes in the bin. Ryan Girdler landed three goals in his last NRL game.
The Bulldogs went on to win the decider 16-13 over the Roosters, their last premiership success to date. This weekend represents just the Panthers’ fourth finals match since 2004.
While the winner of Saturday’s prelim final will head into the 2014 Grand Final as distinct outsiders, they will undoubtedly take plenty of confidence into their clash with the Roosters or Rabbitohs.
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