|Match Date||15th Mar, 2003|
|Venue||Homebush (Telstra Stadium)|
The Bulldogs got the points but a brave South Sydney won the hearts of more than 40,000 fans last night after falling agonisingly short of springing a remarkable upset.
Ten days after the sacking of coach Craig Coleman, the Rabbitohs pushed the premiership favourites to the limit in a performance certain to have enhanced Paul Langmack's prospects of landing the job permanently.
Playing without luck early, Souths trailed 16-2 midway through the first half and 22-10 seven minutes after the interval.
But they got within two points of snatching a win late in the match after a 71st minute Justin Smith try.
Souths got off to the worst possible start when five-eighth Owen Craigie failed to find touch from an opening-minute penalty, and Bulldogs winger Hazem El Masri scored from a Braith Anasta cross-field kick before they received possession again.
A Smith penalty goal reduced the Rabbitohs' deficit to 4-2 in the seventh minute, but El Masri's second try three minutes later - a controversial decision by Bill Harrigan in his video refereeing debut - ensured the Bulldogs remained comfortably on top.
Having given Nigel Vagana the benefit of the doubt when replays of an incident where an Anasta grubber kick appeared to have deflected off his hand before El Masri toed ahead to score proved indecisive, Harrigan was faced with a similar situation at the other end five minutes later.
This time he sent the decision back to referee Steve Clark, who ruled that Souths winger Nathan Merritt had gone into touch before grounding the ball on the Bulldogs' try line.
Merritt, 19, had another opportunity to score in the 17th minute but put the ball down after skipper Bryan Fletcher put Lee Hookey into space and the former St George Illawarra centre chose to ignore an unmarked Craigie on his inside and instead passed outside.
The Rabbitohs' agony was intensified when Anasta, the nephew of Souths supremo George Piggins, finished off a movement involving seven players to score under the posts two minutes later.
But Fletcher got Souths back into the game when he spun out of several attempted tackles to score off a reverse pass from dummy half Shane Walker in the 25th minute and Smith converted.
Another Smith penalty goal four minutes after halftime cut the Bulldogs' lead to 16-10. But only minutes after giving their supporters renewed hope of an upset, the Rabbitohs were reduced to 12 men when utility Brett Kearney was sin-binned after Clark lost patience following a string of infringements by both sides.
Bulldogs fullback Luke Patten immediately made Souths pay when he swooped on a Brent Sherwin banana kick to score under the posts in the 49th minute.
Patten then appeared set to seal a Bulldogs win when he broke into the clear just as Kearney was preparing to return to the action, but a mix-up with second-rower Jamie Feeney resulted in the ball going to ground and Merritt scored at the other end. The pendulum then swung further Souths' way when Anasta was sin-binned in the 64th minute for a professional foul after a long Chris Walker break, and Shane Walker scored from the penalty restart.
But Smith was unable to convert from out wide, and Matt Utai kept the Bulldogs ahead by more than a converted a try when he scored in the 68th minute off a Glen Hughes kick and El Masri goaled.
|Hazem El Masri||Wing||2||5||0||18|
|Braith Anasta||Five Eighth||1||0||0||4|
|Brent Sherwin||Half Back||0||0||0||0|
|Tony Grimaldi||Second Row||0||0||0||0|
|Glen Hughes||Second Row||0||0||0||0|
|Steve Price||Front Row||0||0||0||0|
|Mark O'Meley||Front Row||0||0||0||0|