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The Canberra Raiders have defeated the St George Illawarra Dragons 25-14 in today's Premier League preliminary final at Telstra Stadium.
Leading 20-14 with 15 minutes to go, the minor premiers scored again to put the match beyond doubt.
The Raiders will now meet the St Marys-Penrith Cougars in next weeks Premier League grand final.
---------------------------------------------- Full report - Dragons press release PREMIER LEAGUE BOW OUT 28 September 2003
St George Illawarra's Premier League side has bowed out of the 2003 competition with a 25-14 loss to the Canberra Raiders at Telstra Stadium today.
The Dragons capitulated after leading 14-4 and as such ended their season just one win away from a grand final.
The red and whites failed to fully negotiate the loss of halfback Dean Byrne who left the field with medial ligament damage to his knee after just six minutes.
Byrne clutched his knee in agony after he expertly orchestrated the match?s opening try by firstly grubbering and regathering then firing a pass to John Wilshere to dive over.
Canberra fullback Marshall Chalk made heavy contact with Byrne after the pass with the South Sydney bound Byrne coming off second best.
Byrne didn?t return and although the Dragons moved out to a 10-0 lead after 21minutes thanks to a Gary McBride four pointer they were smashed in the second half by a rampant Raiders.
?We came up with some pretty average errors in the second half and we completed at only 50 per cent which is no way to win a game. We had some opportunities but our execution let us down dearly,? Dragons coach Mick Potter said.
"We came out after halftime looking like we were down by 20 and we played like it and Canberra got the points."
In fact the Dragons led 14-10 at the main break after Hassan Saleh crossed in the left corner and Canberra had replied through James Evans and Chalk.
But the second half was all one-way traffic as the green machine clicked into gear and the Dragons bombed every chance they were handed.
Chalks second try gave Canberra the lead for the first time and when replacement Phil Graham crossed the Raiders led 20-14 into the last quarter hour.
Despite having plenty of opportunities the Dragons couldn?t cross the stripe and their season slipped away when Michael Monaghan kicked a 40metre field goal inside the final five minutes.
Jason Bulgarelli dived over late to extend the winning margin t0 25-14.
Potter lamented the loss of his main playmaker post match.
"It was tough on Lachlan Russell who has only played a few games back from a knee reconstruction. It put a lot of pressure on him and Heady but it wasn?t their fault we kept dropping the ball on play one," he said.
Despite the loss Potter let his troops know their year had been appreciated.
"I thanked the guys for their effort through the year because you could never accuse anyone here for a lack of effort. It was just execution that let them down today."
CANBERRA RAIDERS 25 (M Chalk 2, J Evans, P Graham, J Bulgarelli tries; M Gafa 2 goals; M Monaghan field goal) d. ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 14 (J Wilshere, G McBride, H Saleh tries; M Head goal)