As the preliminary final win over Penrith sent shockwaves through Belmore, it left a sour taste at the foot of the mountains.
Penrith were living the dream. Written off by everyone except their loyal supporters, the Panthers cruised into the NRL finals finishing 4th.
They tamed the beast in 2013 Grand Final winners the Sydney Roosters, upsetting Easts 19-18 after a magical drop goal from their “high profile recruit”.
The hero of Penrith and the villain of Bondi, five-eighth Jamie Soward celebrated like they’d won the big one, dreaming of his glory days in the Red V, beating that very same tricolours team from Bondi that he debuted for.
Off to ANZ Stadium they went, for their 3rd hit-out against the Bulldogs that year.
They’d upset the blue and whites twice through the regular season. Firstly in Round 3 in Penrith, they stole the show with a try in the dying seconds of the match and conversion from the sideline to Matt Moylan after the buzzer to get up 18-16.
Later in the season they met again, this time at the Dogs home ground at Olympic Park, the Panthers getting up again 22-16. But that was where it ended for them.
The Bulldogs were on top of their opposition from the kick off, bullying their less experienced forward pack into submission. Inspirational Dally M Prop of the Year James Graham was relentless, repeatedly targeting Jamie Soward and taking him well away from his game plan.
Canterbury’s forward pack won them the game, with tries to Graham, Josh Jackson and Dale Finucane putting an end to the fairytale run of the boys in black, getting the job done 18-12 to march on to the Grand Final.
Although they didn’t make it to the “big dance”, Penrith won over a lot of people last year, including Canterbury coach Des Hasler who praised them leading up to their Round 1 clash.
“I’ve been impressed with Penrith. People kept writing them off, writing them off. They got us early last year. In fact they got us both rounds. In the finals game it was a tight affair again.
“They’re a mobile side. They’ve got some young players. They’ve got years experience under the belt in that they’ve had finals experience. I think it’s going to be a really tough game,” said coach Des Hasler.
The two sides meet at Pepper Stadium on Sunday afternoon, Penrith out for revenge and the Dogs looking to continue their dominance they’ve displayed since Haslers arrival in 2012.
Words: Jack Novak