The final score didn't reflect a game that was in the balance for the first hour with Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs eventually going down 38-12 (six tries to three) at the hands of Sydney Roosters.
Bulldogs went into the finals fixture 1-17 and with the same side that defeated Dragons in golden point last week. For the minor premiers, Mitchell Pearce didn’t recover in time from a hamstring injury with Jackson Hastings staying in the halves.
The last time these two sides met in a finals match was in 2004. And we all know what happened there, with a famous 16-13 victory to Bulldogs in the grand final. Unfortunately it wasn’t the same happy ending this year, with Roosters running in five tries in the last 30 minutes after only four points separated the sides at half time.
It was a bruising start from the Bulldogs, winning the early battle with an aggressive brand of defence. The Dogs of War were in town!
However, Roosters weathered the storm and collected the first points of the match via a James Maloney penalty goal in the 7th minute for a 2-0 lead. Roosters charged back up the field in the following set and a clever Blake Ferguson flick-on from a bomb saw unmarked winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall cross in the corner. Maloney converted for 8-0 in the 12th minute.
Tim Lafai found touch with the subsequent kick-off to give Bulldogs the chance to hit back immediately but an error from Lafai undid his earlier good work and let Roosters off the hook.
Hastings put Maloney through a gap in in the 15th minute but a smothering one-on-one tackle from Brett Morris saved the day.
A penalty to Roosters in the 17th minute saw the tri-colours camp deep inside Bulldog territory and a fiery Dylan Napa looked certain to charge over but dropped the ball at the line.
Daniel Tupou came up with an error on his own 20m in the 19th minute and a Moses Mbye grubber found Curtis Rona but he couldn’t quite scoop the ball up. Close but no cigar.
There was no lack of endeavour from the blue and whites and their attack finally found its teeth in the 27th minute, when Josh Reynolds hit the chest of Lafai who had picked a hole in the Rooster’s line defence. It was on the back of an excellent charge and offload from Sam Kasiano the tackle prior. Lafai failed to convert his own try for 8-4.
It was a little scrappy, not helped by the slippery conditions, but it was end-to-end for the remainder of the half. Despite that, it stayed 8-4 at the break and the game was either teams to win.
Mbye had a moment he’d rather forget in the 43rd minute, playing the ball the wrong way after he got up disorientated from a tackle. Kasiano started the second half as he ended the first with enormous carries, posing Roosters all kinds of problems up the middle.
The match was marred by controversy in the 51st minute with Kane Evans ruled to have scored despite replays suggesting he was short of the line before sliding the ball forward. The video referee deemed insufficient evidence to overturn the original ruling. Maloney converted for 14-4.
It turned out to be a pivotal moment, as in the blink of an eye Roosters had crossed again with an Evans offload finding Roger Tuivasa-Sheck who scooted past Brett Morris to extend the lead. Maloney knocked over the extras for 20-4 in the 55th minute.
In the 60th minute Frank Pritchard found space before Josh Morris offloaded to Damien Cook who crossed for a timely return of serve. Tim Browne took over kicking duties and missed to the left for 20-8.
Any sniff of comeback was gone in the 65th minute when Kenny-Dowall collected his second of the night, evading the covering tackle of Mbye and then holding off Rona. Maloney kept his perfect kicking record intact for 26-8.
Boyd Cordner then slipped nonchalantly through the Bulldog’s defence in the 72nd minute to score his side’s fifth of the night. Maloney added the extras for 32-8. Minutes later, Kenny-Dowall plucked the ball out of the air to bring up his treble. Maloney converted for 38-8.
Rona crossed for a buzzer-beating consolation via a spiralling Cook cut out which saw the winger equal the try scoring feats of Ben Barba and Nigel Vagana with 23 for the season.
Season over but always, proud to be a Bulldog.
ROOSTERS 38 (Kenny-Dowall 3, Evans, Tuivasa-Sheck, Cordner Tries; Maloney 7 Goals) def. BULLDOGS 12 (Lafai, Cook, Rona Tries)
At: Allianz Stadium