It was tough, rugged and unrelenting, and fittingly it was the player who fitted that description the best who proved the difference, with Josh Reynolds' first ever field goal sealing the Bulldogs 9-8 win over the Roosters in an old-fashioned wet weather slog at Allianz Stadium.
With the Men of League's Heritage Round upon us and plummeting rain a constant throughout the match, this was always going to be one for traditionalists, as both sides kept their attacking guns firmly in their holsters and resorted to trucking it up the middle and attempting to belt the opposition into submission.
The Bulldogs bashed the premiers from pillar to post with aggressive defence and a line speed that was set permanently to hyper drive, and in the end a 70th-minute field goal from Josh Reynolds – the first in his 65 games at the top level – was all that separated the two sides after 80 minutes of tough, take-no-prisoners football.
"That was my first ever field goal in footy, ever," Reynolds revealed after the match. "Not even in juniors. Nothing. Ever. So pretty pumped about that!
"I don’t even think I’ve hit one at training, to tell you the truth so when it left the foot alright I was surprised. I got lucky..."
In a match tailor-made for his combative play, Michael Ennis was at his niggling best, milking a few penalties, getting through 40 tackles and proving himself an all-round nuisance to the premiers in his 200th game.
Earlier the Roosters wasted no time in getting across the stripe in the fourth minute, with hooker Jake Friend burrowing through three sluggish Bulldogs defenders, but what would've been the Queenslanders' first try of the year was disallowed when it was ruled Sonny-Bill Willams had impeded the defence in driving his teammate over the line.
Instead it was the visitors who opened their account first when Josh Reynolds attracted the outside defence, creating an overlap and putting Chase Stanley over in the right corner, and Trent Hodkinson continued his fine form off the kicking tee to convert from the sideline to give the Bulldogs an early 6-0 lead in the 11th minute.
Nine minutes later Hodkinson put the Bulldogs further ahead when he slotted a simple penalty goal to stretch the lead to 8-0, a fair reflection of the difference between the sides as the Dogs helped themselves to 57 per cent of possession in the first 20 minutes and the Roosters got in some more tackling practice.
With the Bulldogs forwards continuing to find good yardage up the middle the Roosters suddenly awoke at the half hour mark and should've had their first points but for a try-saving tackle from Bulldogs custodian Sam Perrett that could well have put Mitch Aubusson into orbit as the Roosters utility looked certain to score from a Shaun Kenny-Dowall bat-down from the air.
Two minutes later though the Roosters were not to be denied, and the premiers broke through for their first try in 110 minutes of football after they were held scoreless by Manly last week. As has been the case plenty of times already this season, halfback Mitch Pearce was in thick of it with a classy flat ball sending Michael Jennings across from close range.
James Maloney, who had a running battle with opposite number Reynolds throughout the game, then reduced the deficit to two when he converted from out wide, and followed up with a penalty soon after send the teams to the sheds all tied up at 8-apiece.
The Bulldogs again had the early running upon the resumption, but coughed up possession with two knock-ons inside the Roosters 20 metre zone within the first six minutes of the second half.
Rooster winger Daniel Tupou looked to have made the most of a rare opportunity out wide and broken the deadlock in the 57th minute, but desperate cover defence from Reynolds saw the young flyer slide into touch a millisecond before touching down in the left corner.
A 67th-minute grubber from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck close to the line gave the Roosters six again deep in the Dogs territory, but the Roosters couldn't crack the best defence in the league and a Mitchell Pearce sent a shot at field goal agonisingly wide of the uprights.
The Bulldogs then rolled downfield from the ensuing set to give Reynolds a shot at what proved to be the definitive one-pointer, sinking the Roosters to their third loss of the season.
Reynolds later expressed surprise that the Roosters elected to take a quick tap off a penalty late in proceedings rather than get Maloney to steer over what appeared to be a safe two points for the taking.
"It was a bit [surprising] to tell you the truth," he said. "They were about to go ahead there."
He said the side was committed to each other in defence, and it showed on the night.
"It’s one of those things where the boys are digging deep for each other," he said.
"Whether there’s a penalty all the way up the other end or right near our try line, that’s one of our big focuses this year so it’s a great thing to have that belief. Especially on the line where not many teams are cracking it."
And his 'niggle' with Maloney, the man who stands in his way for the NSW No.6 jersey?
"It’s always a bit of friendly fire with the opposition five-eighth... Jimmy and I are mates and it’s nothing more than that. It was a good battle."
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 9 (C Stanley tries; T Hodkinson 2 goals; J Reynolds field goal) defeated Sydney Roosters 8 (M Jennings tries; J Maloney 2 goals) at Allianz Stadium. Crowd: 12,854