|Match Date||3rd Oct, 2004|
|Venue||Homebush (Telstra Stadium)|
The Bulldogs are the National Rugby League premiers after defeating the Sydney Roosters 16-13 in the grand final at the Olympic stadium in Sydney.
The victory shattered retiring Roosters captain Brad Fittler's dreams of a fairytale finish to his glittering football career, which began in 1989. It was the Roosters' third loss in a grand final in the past five years.
Victory, however, was sweet for the Bulldogs, who missed the chance of premiership glory in 2002 after salary cap rorts saw them relegated from top spot to the wooden spoon.
The premiership, Canterbury's first since 1995, marks a positive end to a turbulent year for the club.
The Bulldogs were made to work hard for the win, bouncing back from being 13-6 down at half-time to score two second half tries and keep the Roosters scoreless.
Second rower Willie Mason was presented with the Clive Churchill Medal, awarded to the player deemed best on ground.
Mason said the match was a titanic struggle.
"Hard, tough, physical game, going down to the 80th minute, I can't believe it," he said.
Mason led from the front in the absence of injured skipper Steve Price, who watched from the sideline wearing his number 10 jersey.
"Thanks to everybody, it's going to be the greatest lap of honour that I'll get to do to finish my career at a fantastic club, and I've had a fantastic time," said Price, who joined stand-in skipper Andrew Ryan in accepting the premiership trophy.
"Everybody involved in our club has stuck with us and fully deserve tonight and the rest of this year."
In a sporting gesture, interchange player Johnathan Thurston gave his premiership ring to Price.
Meanwhile Ryan, who made a winning debut in his first game as captain, paid tribute to the Fittler.
"I'd like to thank the Roosters, especially Brad Fittler, mate you're a legend," he said. "It's a honour to play against you and play with you over these years, and I wish you all the best in the future."
Fittler said that seeing his wife and young daughter in the dressing rooms had helped him deal with the disappointment of going out on a losing note.
"That put a smile on my face for a little bit," he said, "but [I] just feel pretty lucky I suppose. Good way to go out, could have won, which would have made it better, but still got here."
Wet and slippery conditions tested the two sides early, with both the Roosters and Bulldogs guilty of numerous knock-ons.
It was the Roosters who enjoyed the better field position, thanks largely to some strong defence and line kicking.
The minor premiers peppered the touch lines, keen to play the game in the Bulldogs' half and force a mistake.
They were rewarded in the 15th minute when Chris Walker posted the first try of the night off the back of a lovely Roosters set move.
Roosters captain Brad Fittler put in a little left foot chip back to the right, behind the ruck. Walker caught the ball on the full and ran unopposed underneath the goal posts for the try.
Second rower Craig Fitzgibbon made no mistake with the conversion to extend the Roosters' lead to 6-0.
Despite being behind on the scoreboard, the Bulldogs looked dangerous in attack with Utai returning the ball from a Roosters kick to the halfway mark.
While the Bulldogs were unable to respond in that set of six, they did so in the 23rd minute on the back off a dropped ball from Roosters second rower Michael Crocker.
The Dogs attacked wide deep in the Roosters' half and found a one-man overlap.
Second rower and Bulldogs captain Andrew Ryan threw a lovely cut-out pass which found Utai, who crossed in the corner.
Super boot Hazem El Masri failed with the conversion and the score remained 6-4.
El Masri redeemed himself in the 29th minute when he levelled the scores with a penalty goal from virtually straight in front.
The Roosters, however, sneaked back in front when Brett Finch slotted a field goal in the 34th minute.
That field goal took on greater importance just minutes later when Anthony Tupou busted the line to put full-back Anthony Minichiello in for a try underneath the posts.
Fitzgibbon again added the extras to extend the Roosters' lead to 13-6.
Minichiello crossed again in the dying stages of the half, but the video referee ruled an obstruction and the try was disallowed.
The Bulldogs came out firing in the second half and took just four minutes to post the first try of the stanza.
The Dogs attacked the right edge defence of the Roosters, and centre Willie Tonga drew his man to put Utai into space.
Utai narrowly stayed inside the touch line and beat a number of cover defenders to cross out wide.
El Masri kicked the conversion from the sideline to reduce the margin back to one point.
The Bulldogs enjoyed a mountain of possession and good field position and snatched the lead for the first time in the match when Sherwin ran to the line and put El Masri into a gap.
The winger crashed over the top of two defenders to score and put his side in front. However, El Masri was unable to add the extras and the score remained 16-13.
The Bulldogs looked in a strong position to put the game away when Walker knocked on deep in his side's half.
But a big push from the Roosters pack saw them win the ball against the feed.
From there the Roosters launched a raid on the Bulldogs' line, and had numerous opportunities in the final 10 minutes to win back the lead.
But the Bulldogs' defence held firm to sink the Roosters and Fittler's fairytale ending.
|Hazem El Masri||Wing||1||2||0||8|
|Braith Anasta||Five Eighth||0||0||0||0|
|Brent Sherwin||Half Back||0||0||0||0|
|Andrew Ryan||Second Row||0||0||0||0|
|Reni Maitua||Second Row||0||0||0||0|
|Willie Mason||Front Row||0||0||0||0|
|Mark O'Meley||Front Row||0||0||0||0|
|Sonny Bill Williams||Replacement||0||0||0||0|