With the Canterbury Bulldogs on the cusp of a new era under rookie coach Dean Pay, who will look to release Des Hasler’s shackles and reinvent the blue-and-whites as an attacking force, Monday Memories recalls one of the club’s most memorable regular-season victories of the NRL era.
Bulldogs-Roosters encounters were the hottest ticket in town during the early-2000s, and this 2003 encounter was arguably the finest of them all.
Animosity ramped up between the clubs in 2002 when the Bulldogs, runaway ladder-leaders and title favourites, were stripped of all of their competition points just a month out from the finals for flagrant salary cap breaches. The Ricky Stuart-coached Roosters subsequently embarked on a nine-match winning streak that carried the club all the way to grand final glory, claiming a premiership the Bulldogs believed was rightfully theirs.
The grudge match the following season lived up to its billing as the competition front-runners produced a high-scoring thriller in Round 9. With the scores locked 26-all and just over a minute remaining, Bulldogs halfback Brent Sherwin gambled on a long pass to Matt Utai instead of setting for a field goal, and the nuggetty winger beat four defenders on a sensational run to the corner for the match-winning try.
The adversaries lined up again just four weeks later, the Bulldogs notching a 28-18 win over an injury-hit Roosters outfit. Both sides finished in the top four, but Penrith’s surprise capture of the minor premiership denied the grand final showdown Rugby League fans were waiting for; instead the two title favourites were pitched into a preliminary final battle, which the Roosters again won 28-18.
The rivalry reached a crescendo when they met in a dream grand final showdown in 2004, won 16-13 by the Bulldogs in a classic decider.