The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have advanced to week two of the finals after a golden-point 11-10 victory over the St George Illawarra Dragon at ANZ Stadium.
After regulation time, scores were locked at 10-all, with a Josh Reynolds field goal breaking the deadlock and securing victory, three minutes into extra time.
Coach Des Hasler was able to stick with the 17 men he selected earlier in the week with the main inclusion being Brett Morris who was rested from the clash last week against the Warriors.
It was fifth versus eighth in the elimination final with the winner advancing to face the Roosters and the loser bowing out for season 2015. The blue and whites were coming off five victories in a row whilst the Dragons had some indifferent form running into the finals.
The red v were boosted with Gareth Widdop and Joel Thompson included in the final 17, with Drew Hutchison and Mark Ioane the men to drop out of the side.
After 11 minutes of play the first points were registered through former Dragon Brett Morris. Off the back of a penalty and a mid-field break from winger Sam Perrett, the men from Belmore had the Dragons on the back foot. A quick play the ball from Perrett, it was then Josh Reynolds who took it one off the ruck and after straightening up the play, got the ball to his captain James Graham who smartly took it to the defensive line and turned it back on the inside to Morris who carried two men for a couple of metres before reaching out to score. Moses Mbye was given the kicking duties first up and converted from in front to give the side a 6-nil lead.
The middle period of the half was played from end to end with the Dragons having the best opportunity with Benji Marshall darting out of active half at one stage that ended with him going over the line but being dragged back into the field of play.
Soon after the red and whites had numerous sets at the Bulldogs line but the defence held strong and Frank Pritchard managed to force an error from George Rose just two metres from the line.
The remainder of the half was played without any points being scored with no real danger posed from any side in the remaining five minutes of the half.
It was heart in mouth stuff to start the second half with an error from Brett Morris causing some concern. Dragons winger Eto Nabuli claimed a try but Brett was able to have grounded the ball in-goal and the Bulldogs having a drop out.
The pressure continued and there were plenty of tackles being made on the line with Marshall claiming a try soon when he ran the ball on the last tackle. It was sent upstairs to video referees Ashley Klein and Luke Phillips with the pair agreeing with the on-field decision of an obstruction with the Bulldogs getting a penalty 10m out from their own line.
Tim Lafai looked to have scored in the 58th minute off the back of a set play but again the on-field decision was no try and it was backed up on the replays with Josh Jackson running a decoy and impeding Widdop, with the Dragons getting the penalty.
The clock was winding down and with both Marshall and Thompson off the field due to injury, the frustration was getting to the men from Belmore and Mbye took an attempt at field goal with 17 minutes on the clock but sprayed it to the left.
The video referees were very busy with Nabuli crossing in the 69th minute. Off the back off a reversed decision, it only took three tackles for the red and whites to score in the north-west corner. There was plenty of defence there but the Fijian was able to get the ball down before being taken into touch. Widdop converted from the sideline, levelling things up at 6-all with 10 minutes left on the clock.
Widdop had the first chance of breaking the deadlock through a field goal attempt but it was charged down but the next play gave them a penalty 35m out. Both Frank Pritchard and Sam Kasiano were placed on report, Pritchard for use of his knees and Kasiano for a potential ‘crusher’. Widdop lined up for the kick and converted, giving the Dragons an 8-6 lead with just five minutes on the clock.
With the game looking as good as gone it was the big guns who turned the tide. First it was Josh Morris who broke down the left hand side and from the next play Josh Reynolds took the line on, turned it back on the inside to Lafai who then offloaded to Shaun Lane who scored, much to the delight of the fans. Mbye couldn’t convert with the lead just two point, 10-8, with just two minutes on the clock.
From the kick-off, Lane was judged to be offside after the ball looked to have come off the back of Perrett, gifting the Dragons a penalty. With just seconds on the clock, Widdop lined the ball up and took the attempt at goal from 35m out and 15m in from the sideline to level things up at 10-all, at the end of regular time.
After Widdop failed with his first attempt at field goal in extra time and from there the Bulldogs charged down through the middle of the field and after the first attempt was charged down, the next set was structured better and it was Reynolds who slotted it over, with the 11-10 victory meaning the side will advance to next week, where they will take on the Roosters at Allianz Stadium.
BULLDOGS 11 (B Morris, S Lane Tries; M Mbye 1 Goal; J Reynolds 1 Field Goal)
DRAGONS 10 (E Nabuli Tries; G Widdop 3 Goals)
At: ANZ Stadium