2001: ROUND SF

vs St George Illawarra

Match Details
Match Date 8th Sep, 2001
Opponent St George Illawarra
Result Loss
Coach Steven Folkes
Captain Darren Britt
Venue Sydney Showground Homebush
Crowd 17,975
Referee Paul Simpkins

The 7th placed St George-Illawarra have upset 2nd placed Bulldogs 23-22 to stay alive in this years semi-final series. The Dragons win sees the Roosters eliminated from this years competition and setting themselves up for a likely showdown with the Brisbane Broncos next week.

The Dragons and the Bulldogs put on what must be regarded as possibly the best clash of the season. It wasn't the most skillful game of football we've seen, but in terms of tension, drama, emotion and pure tough physical football; the match had it all. In the final 5 minutes; the Bulldogs had up to 2-3 chances to pull off a miracle victory, but the dragons put their bodies on the line and somehow managed to hold out in the end.

The match will prove to be extremely sweet for Dragons supporters who have put up with the Bulldogs controversially eliminating them in two recent finals series. The last time the Dragons beat the Bulldogs in the finals was 1993.

It was almost an instant replay of the previous week but with roles reversed in the opening of the match. The Bulldogs dominated all the field position and possession but were unable to post any posts as the Dragons defence was ready and up to the task of a high pressure final. The previous week it was the Bulldogs who had absorbed all the pressure.

The Bulldogs came close on several occasions, but in their first two attacking raids they threw unnecessary passes on early tackles that were intercepted by the Dragons. The Bulldogs looked to have trouble settling into the game and it was somewhat surprising to see Steve Folkes replace Darrell Trindall after only 9 minutes of play, Brent Sherwin coming on at halfback. Trindall had an unhappy start, but the Bulldogs looked even less cohesive after Trindall came off.

But it didn't seem to matter when the Bulldogs put on a magic passing play that saw Steve Reardon charge over under the posts; seemingly to score the first try of the match. But a magic hit by Amos Roberts saw the ball dislodged just as Reardon was attempting to place it down it did prove to be the difference come the end of the match.

Shortly after though, the Bulldogs did come up with something when El Masri kicked a tough penalty goal to put the Dogs ahead 2-0.

As we had seen the previous week, the side that absorbed all the pressure came up with a try with one of their first chances and this was the case as the Dragons opened up the Bulldogs outwide. A penalty put them hot on attack and Matt Cooper finished off the great work by his inside men to score. Mark Riddell kicked a ripper from the sideline to put them ahead 6-2.

A minute later it was 12-2 as the Bulldogs faithful in the stands sat motionless in shock. A rampaging run by Riddell put Roberts into the clear and he put his foot down and raced away to score under the posts. Up 12-2 in a semi-final, the Dragons were looking good things.

They had another chance to go even further ahead following a Trent Barrett 40/20, but an intercept by Anasta saved the day for the Bulldogs with the 5/8 racing up to the 40m line before being cut down.

With 6 minutes remaining till the break the Bulldogs had to strike soon and they did. Sherwin threaded through a grubber for El Masri who collected and scored under the posts. The video referee deliberated a while on the offside call but El Masri looked level with the kick and the try was awarded.

Then with 2-3 minutes till the break the Bulldogs shot back into the lead as quickly as the Dragons had shot to 12-2 up. A last tackle play down the right blindside, saw the Bulldogs with numbers. The cover converged and the ball was kicked back infield for the chasers. A couple of Bulldogs chasers were felled in traffic and the fans boo-ed, but only for a second or two as they turned to cheers when Braith Anasta was first to the ball to score anyway. It was the try of the match - a sensational piece of football. El Masri's conversion put them up 14-12 and the Dogs went into halftime with their heads up.

But the halftime break proved to be the worst thing to happen to the Bulldogs, as all the momentum they were building in the final moments of the first half was all but a distant memory. They began the 2nd half with mistakes in their first several sets and continued to place themselves under unnecessary pressure.

After conceding the first penalty of the 2nd half, the Bulldogs defence folded 9 minutes into the 2nd half when McGregor put Blacklock over in the corner with a superb pass. The try put the Dragons back in front; and Mark Riddell put them four ahead with another magnificent sideline conversion.

A late hit on Braith Anasta in the 52nd minute by Jamie Fitzgerald was controversially ruled ok by the match officials. But it didn't matter as a Dragons mistake next tackle put the Bulldogs hot on attack. The Dragons then compounded things by conceding a penalty the Bulldogs took the quick tap. Next tackle the Dragons gave away another penalty resulting in the Bulldogs this time settling things down and taking the shot for goal. Referee Paul Simpkins refused to use the sin-bin. El Masri slotted the penalty to put the Bulldogs back within two points.

A terrific 40/20 kick by Brent Sherwin in the 61st minute put the Bulldogs hot on attack and ready to strike. Anasta almost went through on the 1st tackle but was dragged down just short of the line. A shocking pass on the 2nd tackle by Trindall was knocked on by Sherwin costing the Bulldogs dearly as chances were proving to be few and far between in the match.

The match was threatening to break open; and in the 65th minute: it did. The pass of the year by Trent Barrett put Matt Cooper over in the corner for a four-pointer. Barrett beat one and accelerated then let go a round the corner one handed flick pass that flew over the top of two players finding Cooper with an open goalline. It was an incredible play. The important conversion by Wayne Bartrim was missed and kept the door open for the Bulldogs with 12 minutes of play remaining.

A charge down by Steve Reardon in the 69th minute proved crucial when the Dragons regained possession and had six more tackles with the ball just inside the Bulldogs half. The next tackle Willie Talau came up with a high tackle that put the Dragons hot on attack. The Bulldogs somehow withstood the pressure when the Dragons looked certain to score on one occasion. Barrett threaded through a grubber that earned the Dragons another set. The call went out and play was directed to the middle. Willie Peters then slotted the goal to put them ahead 23-16 with 9 minutes remaining.

The Dogs came up with the ball from a short kick off then were hot on attack following a penalty. A terrific pass by Darren Britt put Glen Hughes over for the try. Hughes was cut down just short of the line after Britt held up a pass just as he met three defenders who assumed Britt would take the hit up. Hughes managed to reach out with his arm and score the try. El Masri wasted no time with the conversion and the Dogs were still alive.

In what proved to be the most nerve-wracking six minutes of football in the season; the Bulldogs threw everything they had at the Dragons but were unable to come up with the miracle play. With four minutes remaining the Bulldogs had a chance down the blind on the last tackle; but Talau was brought down on the last 10 metres out as he ran out of support. Then with under a minute remaining it came down to the final Bulldogs set. A break by Anasta put them right on attack then they looked a chance on the left but Rauhihi was unable to get a pass away as the Dragons somehow found the numbers. Then the last tackle was up and ten seconds remained. Sherwin shaped to go for the field goal but he had no room; then fired a long pass out to Glen Hughes. El Masri was a chance but the pass went behind him and the Dragons came up with it and the match was theirs.

The Dragons played out of their skins and deserved the match. They showed a lot of heart and desire to win and they came away with the goods. The Bulldogs tried their hearts out; and while they weren't down on intensity at all they lacked cohesion in attack and was probably caused by the high tension and nerves of the occasion. At times they panicked with the football and their last tackle options let them down all night.

Young gun Braith Anasta played out of his skin and so too did leading forwards like Britt the Bulldogs particularly missed the work of Polla-Mounter around the rucks and that was - in my opinion - the difference between the two sides. The Dragons simply had more options and room around the rucks. The Dragons pack did what I feared, and came out fired up and ready to bash em after all the drama in the previous week. Trent Barrett and Willie Peters were able to take advantage of the platform laid by the forwards. Neither side's backs had much room or opportunity to break away with a miracle break; the match was purely and simply won in the engine room. As the scoreline showed, there wasn't much in it the Dragon's just took a fraction more of the opportunities they had.

One thing that spoiled the game for me was the lack of control by Paul Simpkins towards the end of the game. He looked flustered and unable to make any hard decisions in the final 15 minutes, as the game was tight and the stakes high. _Both_ sides infringed constantly; and particularly at the end when the Bulldogs were mounting their final raids Simpkins was reluctant to penalise the ever increasing holding down of the tackled players, something he was right on top of early in the match. Earlier he refused to use the sin-bin when several occasions warranted it.

The Bulldogs will now play either the Sharks or the Warriors next Sunday afternoon at the SFS depending on the Eels v Warriors result. If the Eels win the Dogs will meet the sharks, if the Warriors win the Dogs will play them either way the winner will go through to meet Newcastle in the GF Qualifyer. The Dragons will play the Eels if the Warriors win, or the Broncos if the Eels come away with the victory and the Dragons will go in as favourites to progress through to the GF qualifyer after their win tonight.

Source: www.rleague.com

Player Position Tries Goals F Goals Points
Luke Patten Fullback 0 0 0 0
Hazem El Masri Wing 1 5 0 14
Shane Marteene Wing 0 0 0 0
Nigel Vagana Centre 0 0 0 0
Willie Talau Centre 0 0 0 0
Braith Anasta Five Eighth 1 0 0 4
Darrell Trindall Half Back 0 0 0 0
Darren Smith Lock 0 0 0 0
Steve Reardon Second Row 0 0 0 0
Jamie Feeney Second Row 0 0 0 0
Steve Price Front Row 0 0 0 0
Darren Britt Front Row 0 0 0 0
Corey Hughes Hooker 0 0 0 0
Glen Hughes Replacement 1 0 0 4
Willie Mason Replacement 0 0 0 0
Brent Sherwin Replacement 0 0 0 0
Paul Rauhihi Replacement 0 0 0 0
Total: 3 5 0 22