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In what has been a year of controversy, the Canterbury Bulldogs have won the 2004 NRL premiership, defeating the Sydney Roosters 16-13 at Telstra Stadium tonight. Following a series of accusations which have damaged the club and the game itself, the Bulldogs have struck back in the best way possible, claiming the title of 2004 champions.
In a first half of end-to-end football, minor premiers the Roosters were first to score when Chris Walker ran onto a deft kick from champion five eighth Brad Fittler, playing in his final game. The Bulldogs fought back with a try to Matt Utai in the 24th minute.
In a match marred by handling errors, Roosters half back Brett Finch potted a surprise field goal in the 34th minute before Anthony Topou combined to put fullback Anthony Minichiello in under the posts. At half time, the Roosters held 13-6 lead and looked set to give Fittler a worthy send off.
But the Bulldogs scored soon after the break with Matt Utai bagging a double. They scored again in the 53rd minute with Hazem El Masri posting his 100th career and club try.
With plenty of football left, both sides defended desperately with the Roosters remaining scoreless in the second half for the first time this year.
In a tense finish, the Roosters mounted a final raid before back rower Andrew Ryan, in his first match as captain, pulled off what may have been a try saving tackle to win possession, and the premiership for the Bulldogs.
After the match, Ryan paid tribute to injured and departing skipper Steve Price when he said, "I'm just filling in here."
Meanwhile, utility player Jonathon Thurston, also departing next year, was making no secret of the fact that he had given Price his Grand Final ring.
[pic: Steve Price, Andrew Ryan]
Telstra Stadium, Crowd: 82,127 Referee: Tim Mander
ROOSTERS 13 Tries: Walker, Minichiello Goals: Fitzgibbon 2/2. Field Goal: Finch defeated by BULLDOGS 16 Tries: Utai 2, El Masri Goals: El Masri 1/3
By the clock: PRE-MATCH: Huge crowd on hand and tremendous evening for football. Roosters have won both lower grades with Jersey Flegg defeating Sharks 14-13 and Premier League defeating Dragons 30-8.
NEWS is that Chris Flannery will be playing for the Roosters despite earlier reports of a ruptured testicle. Players getting ready, pre-match entertainment almost out of the way.
Light rain falling. Players on the field. Kickoff!!! The 2004 Grand Final is underway!
8 min: NEWS - end to end stuff with both sides adjusting to the slightly greasy conditions. The Bulldogs coming close the line. Willie Mason is fired up!
15 min: TRY - Roosters. Chris Walker scores under posts after a magical short kick from Brad Fittler into the red zone. Scored against the run of play but very hard to defend against. Conversion Craig Fitzgibbon. Roosters 6-0
17 min: NEWS - Tremendous 60m run from Bulldogs winger Matt Utai.
20 min: NEWS - Interchange being employed with Sonny Bill Williams coming on for the Bulldogs.
24 min: TRY - Bulldogs. Matt Utai scores following a backline movement which sees the try scorer unmarked on the left flank. Conversion Hazem El Masri is waved away. Roosters 6-4
29 min: PENALTY GOAL - Bulldogs. El Masri makes no mistake from in front. It's all locked up: 6-all
34 min: FIELD GOAL - Roosters. Brett Finch pots one over from 45m out, surprising everyone. Roosters 7-6
35 min: TRY - Roosters. Anthony Minichiello scores under the posts after a bust from 60m out from Anthony Topou. Conversion Fitzgibbon. Roosters 13-6
37 min: NO TRY - Roosters denied after obstruction is ruled. Minichiello close to scoring again as the Roosters are on a roll.
HALF TIME SUMMARY: The Bulldogs came out all guns firing but have been stung by great counter measures from the Roosters. For the Bulldogs, forwards Willie Mason and Mark O'Meley have been standouts running into traffic while Tony Grimaldi has been leading the way in defence. For the Roosters, halfback Brett Finch is proving dangerous both sides of the ruck with Craig Fitzgibbon leading the way in defence. The Bulldogs have their work cut out for them and will need to score next. Half time: Roosters 13-6
Second half underway...
43 min: TRY - Bulldogs. Matt Utai in the corner after Brett Sherwin switches play to the blind side. Looking well covered, Utai manages to ground the ball inside the touch line and survives the video ref scrutiny. Conversion from El Masri is a ripper. Roosters 13-12
50 min: NEWS - Still 13-12 with plenty of pressue being applied both ways.
53 min: TRY - Bulldogs. El Masri scores his 100th career try after Sherwin weaves his magic wide of the ruck, stepping around the outside defence. El Masri lunges over after not being held up. Wide conversion unsuccessful. Bulldogs 16-13
55 min: NEWS - Ned Catic (Roosters) penalised for high tackle. More ball for Bulldogs who have lately been getting a Lion's share of possession. CROWD posted: 82,127
62 min: NEWS - Still 16-13 to the Bulldogs. Willie Mason is held up over the line. Roosters look to be all sorts of strife but survive.
64 min - 70 min: NEWS - Finch (Roosters) hits the chalk, kicking out on the full while looking for a 40/20. Bulldogs back on the attack but bungle the effort, losing possession. The Roosters reply with some sensational attacking movements - its now the Bulldogs' turn to absorb some pressure. Superb defence from both sides.
70 min: NEWS - deep in their own half, Roosters put the big push on and win the scrum against the feed.
73 min: NEWS - Flannery (Roosters) makes a huge bust of the middle of the ruck. Roosters now on a repeat set.
76 min: NEWS - Bulldogs in possession. Players digging deep as Jonathon Thurston kicks to find touch 5m out from the Roosters' line.
79 min: NEWS - Roosters have the ball. Last chance on half way. Playing for their lives, Michael Crocker loses the ball after a big hit from Andrew Ryan... and possession belongs to the Bulldogs.
FULL TIME SUMMARY: The Bulldogs have hung on to win 16-13, keeping the Roosters scoreless in the second half for the first time in 2004. Willie Mason has been awarded the Clive Churchill Medal and it's hard to argue with that. Too many mistakes but it was a tough match with defence winning out in the end. For the Roosters, Fitzgibbon and Minichiello never stopped trying while Jason Cayless was worked hard in both defence in attack. The Bulldogs were simply too good in the second half with Brett Sherwin and Matt Utai taking full advantage of the hard work done up front, with the entire pack doing the job.
----------------------------------------- Leagueunlimited.com players of the match: 3 - W Mason (Bulldogs) 2 - B Sherwin (Bulldogs) 1 - C Fitzgibbon (Roosters) -----------------------------------------