A terrific first up game for the 'do or die' matches of the NRL competition which sees the Bulldogs through to the 2004 Grand Final next Sunday night after defeating the 2003 Premiers, the Penrith Panthers by 30-14.
A game worthy of such a tough competition as the NRL played in front of a huge, vocal crowd at Aussie Stadium had everything to keep the most critical fan happy.
Both sides committed and determined and with the score tantalisingly close at the break, the Panthers ahead by just 8-4, the 2nd half of the match promised to be a cracker. El Masri scoring a hat-trick stamped his mark on the match, as did the big guns in the Bulldogs pack. Mason, O'Meley and Williams (pictured) were very strong and almost unstoppable as they tirelessly pounded the Panthers defence.
As the 2003 Premiers now bow out of the competition, the whole team can hold their heads highs as they gave it their all in a very tough match. Their defence outstanding as the Bulldogs came at them continuously. The game opened up in the second 40 minutes with some excellent line breaks by both teams.
The Bulldogs now look forward to next Sunday's match against either the Roosters or the Cowboys. Steven Price who left the match after the second tackle in the game with an ankle and a knee injury, will hopefully be back to lead his side for the last time. The Bulldogs club looking forward to their first Grand Final since 1998.
Aussie Stadium, Crowd: 37,868 Referee: Tim Mander
PANTHERS 14 Tries: Wesser, Campbell Goals: Girdler 3/3 defeated by BULLDOGS 30 Tries: El Masri 3, Anasta, Maitua Goals: El Masri 5/8
By the clock: One team tonight will go on to the 2004 Grand Final next Sunday, one team will bow out of the competition altogether. The stage is set at Aussie Stadium for a great match between two top sides. No changes in the team line-ups prior to kick-off.
0 min: The 1st game of the weekend is underway!
1st min: NEWS - Price (Bulldogs) injured with what looks to be a corked thigh. Asotasi into the game early
5th min: NEWS - The game is been played at high speed as expected, the crowd right into the game. A solid start by both sides
9th min: PENALTY GOAL - Girdler (Panthers) Back to back penalties to the Panthers, both within kicking range. Gower opts for a shot at goal on the second penalty. Panthers 2-0
10th min: NEWS - Price set to return to the match with an ankle injury and a heavily strapped knee, a suspected medial ligament injury
13th min: NEWS - Ben Harris (Bulldogs) looking pretty groggy following a head clash with Pridis. Continuing in the game at this stage
15th min: NEWS - The kicking game of Anasta and Sherwin slowing the game down for the Bulldogs. The Panthers looking the more dangerous with the football. They lead 2-0
18th min: NEWS - Galuvao (Panthers) off the field with following a heel knocked into his eye. A very swollen right eye
24th min: TRY - El Masri (Bulldogs) The first time the Bulldogs have good field position on attack and they score after absorbing a lot of pressure from the Panthers. Sherwin kicks to El Masri's wing on the 4th tackle and he's over unmarked in the corner. El Masri misses the conversion. Bulldogs 4-2
31st min: NEWS - Both sides fired up with the big men putting in the big hits. Excellent defence by the two teams. Bulldogs lead 4-2
35th min: TRY - Wesser (Panthers) From the Bulldogs 30 metre line Campbell set sail for the other end of the park. The support by Whatuira and Wesser, who's looked dangerous so far tonight, finished off a superb try for the Panthers. Girdler from right in front makes no mistake. Panthers 8-4
HALFTIME: A very absorbing game by with some top plays by both sides. The Panthers hold the lead going into the break by 8-4
Second half underway..
41st min: NEWS - Gower (Panthers) starts the second half with a perfect 40/20
43rd min: SIN BIN - Wesser (Panthers) off for 10 minutes, a professional foul on Tonga, holding him down too long in the tackle close to the line
44th min: TRY - Anasta (Bulldogs) Following a break by Hughes at the other end of the field, the sin-binning of Wesser, cool heads allow Anasta over the line. El Masri 9 metres in from touch, misses the conversion. 8 all
45th min: news - Clinton and Galuvao both off the field with injuries for Penrith, Price will not return for the Bulldogs.
47th min: NEWS - Hughes (Bulldogs), a 40/20 kick
48th min: PENALTY GOAL - El Masri (Bulldogs). Rooney ruled offside, El Masri nabs it 15 metres in from touch. Bulldogs 10-8
53rd min: NO TRY - Anasta (Bulldogs). Following a line drop out, Anasta had a gap a mile wide to run through. At the death, Priddis manages to knock the ball out of Anasta's hands resulting in another line drop out
54th min: TRY - Maitua (Bulldogs). Wesser returns from the sin bin but no stopping Maitua who hit the line at speed to score under the posts. El Masri converts. Bulldogs 16-8
58th min: NEWS - El Masri (Bulldogs) misses a penalty goal 30 metres out after Puletua was penalised for being offside on the 5th tackle after Hughes seemingly threw the ball straight at him while passes from dummy half
66th min: TRY - El Masri (Bulldogs) A penalty close to the Bulldogs line proves the undoing of Penrith. Asotasi breaks through the defence to set up El Masri lurking in the middle, who scores. El Masri converts his try. Bulldogs 22-8
70th min: TRY - Campbell (Panthers) A break by Rooney to get his side down the other end of the field is followed by a penalty close to the line for the Panthers. 3 plays and Campbell ducks under the defence to score. Girdler converts in about 10 seconds. Bulldogs 22-14
71st min: PENALTY GOAL - El Masri (Bulldogs) The kick off goes horribly wrong for the Panthers resulting in a line drop out for the Bulldogs. The short kick off by Gower doesn't go 10 metres, a penalty right in front. Bulldogs 24-14
73rd min: TRY - El Masri (Bulldogs) El Masri gets his 3rd try of the night after some messy play by both the sides. El Masri ever present, gets the dregs. He converts from right out in front. Bulldogs 30-14
FULL TIME: The Bulldogs are through to their first Grand Final since 1998. A very exciting game, well played both sides. Bulldogs win 30-14
----------------------------------------- Leagueunlimited.com players of the match: 3 - W Mason (Bulldogs) 2 - H El Masri (Bulldogs) 1 - M O'Meley (Bulldogs) -----------------------------------------Like