On This Day: The 98 Miracle
SEPTEMBER 20, 1998: Canterbury pulled off one of the most miraculous come-from-behind wins in the history of first grade rugby league with a 32-20 extra-time win over Parramatta in the 1998 Grand Final qaulifier at the Sydney Football Stadium.
The win was the Bulldogs eighth in succession and booked them a spot in the grand final against the minor premiers Brisbane.
For the second time in as many weeks the Bulldogs fought back and forced extra-time after trailing 18-2 with just over ten minutes on the clock. Last week they managed to crawl their way back from a 16-0 deficit against defending premiers Newcastle to win 28-16.
Today the Bulldogs never hit the front until the first minute of extra-time when Craig Polla Mounter, who returned from injury and was simply outstanding, slotted a field goal on the back of a very determined first set-of-six.
Canterbury went on to score another two converted tries and Polla Mounter slotted another field goal to complete a stunning turn-around.
With just over ten minutes remaining in regular time the Bulldogs looked down-and-out. But what happened next was one for the record books as Canterbury piled on 23 points in just over 14 minutes.
The boot of Daryl Halligan kept the Bulldogs alive late in the game as the Kiwi landed a sideline conversion with just over two minutes remaining. The sharp shooter moved in and squeezed the ball inside the left upright to force extra-time as the Canterbury faithful roared.
The match signified the first semi final meeting between the two clubs since Dean Pay, Jim Dymock, Jason Smith and Jarrod McCracken all jumped ship at the end of the successful 1995 season.
Parramatta were getting the better of Canterbury in the opening exchanges and opened the scoring after eleven minutes on the back of a Jim Dymock kick.
The former Bulldog chipped ahead 20 metres out from the opposition line and found his winger Shane Whereat with the perfect bounce as he dove over to score out wide. Clinton Schifcofske was unsuccessful with the conversion attempt but the Eels lead 4-0 early.
From the kick-off the Bulldogs were able to force the error from Stuart Kelly after a solid shot from young Steve Price. Canterbury were then awarded a penalty for accidental offside and opened their scoring account through a Halligan penalty goal.
Those were the last points to be scored by the blue-and-whites until the 70th minute.
It seemed both sides were unable to consolidate after scoring points and making silly errors instead of executing a simple set-of-six. Following the penalty goal, fresh replacement Troy Stone dropped the ball inside his own half and gave the opposition a sniff.
Parramatta posted next points via a penalty goal at the 20 minute mark after Rod Silva was penalised for stripping the ball. Schifcofske landed the attempt and Parramatta extended their lead to 6-2.
Schifcofske was again in the thick of things just seven minutes out from the break when he dove over out wide on the back of a Dallas Weston line break. The 22-year-old Schifcofske beat four Canterbury defenders on his evading run to the line before converting his own try to give his side a 12-2 buffer going into halftime.
Possession at halftime read 50/50 but it was Parramatta who were taking their chances and coming away with the vital points. However second half football was becoming a favourite for Canterbury, scoring 49 points in their last three matches whilst conceding zero.
The Bulldogs almost looked to continue that trend just minutes into the second half when Craig Polla Mounter sent a towering bomb towards the post only for referee Bill Harrigan to rule a Canterbury player had knocked on in attempting to catch the ball.
The Bulldogs were then faced with a Parramatta onslaught and if it wasn't for Rod Silva at the back the Eels would have extended their lead. Silva wrapped up a flying Stuart Kelly head-on and rolled him over - a certain try saver.
Parramatta went awfully close to scoring in their next set-of-six and actually touched down over the line only for the final pass to be called forward.
The Eels continued to go on the attack deep inside Canterbury territory but simply couldn't put points on the board. The video referee was called upon for a possible Parramatta try but Whereat was ruled to have knocked on in the in-goal area.
The missed opportunities from Parramatta were taking the juice and enthusiasm out of their pack and it became evident with just over 25 minutes remaining that this game was far from over.
Canterbury were digging deep in defence and it was paying dividends as they found themselves in rare field position and immediately broke the line through Willie Talau who was chopped down just metres out. The fifth tackle came around and it was Corey Hughes falling inches short this time as a Polla Mounter grubber slowly rolled dead.
Canterbury continued to push forward and appeared to have scored their first try of the match when Hetherington dove over. Replays showed the hooker had lost the ball over the line and the try was disallowed by the video referee.
The missed opportunity proved costly for Canterbury as Parramatta raced away to score under the sticks less than three minutes later. Shane Whereat picked up a double on the back of a Dymock bust and Schifcofske added the extras to put the Eels ahead 18-2 with just over 15 minutes remaining.
Hetherington was then replaced by Craig Polla Mounter and his face said it all as he sat on the sidelines wondering "what if".
The Bulldogs could do it last week against Newcastle and deep down they still believed they could do it again today against Parramatta.
The return of Polla Mounter from a short break gave Canterbury that added belief as he lead from the front and directed his troops around the paddock in a last ditch effort.
The famous fightback was stewing and with ten minutes and 27 seconds remaining on the clock Polla Mounter got it started as he crashed over to score. Halligan rushed the conversion attempt and was unsuccessful but the blue-and-whites were underway.
With the scoreboard now reading 18-6 in favour of Parramatta the crowd started to come alive as that fighting Canterbury spirit began to show.
From the proceeding kick-off the Bulldogs showed much promise as they sent the ball left early. An overlap was created as Talau found space but a wayward offload found the hands of a Parramatta player.
The Eels then got set for the field goal but the attempt from John Simon sailed just left of the post and with seven minutes remaining Canterbury were still in with a sniff.
The Bulldogs then worked the ball up-field and on the back of some great lead-up work from the forwards, Rod Silva was haring away to score.
Second row forward Robert Relf popped an offload only Silva could see coming as the speedy fullback latched onto the ball and raced 45 metres to score out wide. Halligan was cool under pressure and nailed the conversion to bring the Dogs within a converted try.
The crowd of over 36,000 were buzzing and the Bulldogs were barking as the clock ticked away.
The roll-on continued for Canterbury and on the back of a stripping penalty they found themselves just 30 metres out from the Parramatta line with just under four minutes remaining.
Parramatta were out on their feet and the Bulldogs could smell blood. As the clocked ticked over 77 minutes the Bulldogs were in again, this time through centre Willie Talau who crashed over adjacent to the left corner post.
What unfolded next will be etched in each of the 36,841 spectators memories forever as Daryl Halligan lined up the sideline conversion.
With the ball sitting 30 centimetres in from the touch line and 22 metres out from the try line, Halligan studied the kick, moved in and forced extra-time with a heart stopping conversion.
With less than a minute on the clock, Parramatta's Paul Carriage attempted to win his team a 20 metre restart by grounding the ball whilst having one foot in-goal and one foot in touch. Referee Bill Harrigan ruled the ball had stopped which meant a Parramatta line drop-out.
From there the Bulldogs took a shot at field goal through Robert Relf but were unsuccessful and regular time appeared to be over at 18-18.
Enter Paul Carriage.
The Parramatta fullback retrieved the wayward field goal attempt and as the siren sounded he punted the ball from his own ten metre line down to the halfway line where Rod Silva handed the ball to Craig Polla Mounter.
Carriage will be thanking the football gods for what happened next as Polla Mounter attempted a 49 metre field goal and appeared to win Canterbury the match in dramatic circumstances. However the video referee was called upon and ruled the ball had gone just under the crossbar.
Extra-time was needed to decide this battle. Canterbury had all the momentum and it was evident from the opening set-of-six as the Bulldogs rolled the ball down-field and slotted an easy one-pointer through Craig Polla Mounter to take the lead for the very first time in the match.
In the 4th minute of extra-time the curse of Carriage re-appeared as he unnecessarily caught a cross-field bomb and was bundled into touch just ten metres out from his own line.
From the scrum the Bulldogs sent the ball left and took just one tackle to set themselves up. From dummy-half the little master Polla Mounter dummied, stepped and ducked his way over to score. Daryl Halligan ensured Canterbury went ahead by more than a converted try as he slotted the easy conversion to take the score to 25-18.
The remainder of the opening half in extra-time saw both sides play end-to-end football. No change was made to the scoreboard however and Canterbury had a seven-point lead with the final ten minute stanza to come.
First blood again went the way of Canterbury in extra-time after yet another Paul Carriage blunder. Canterbury halfback Corey Hughes sent the ball high across field and Carriage took the ball safely only to put a foot into touch as he set off.
From the proceeding scrum Canterbury were able to force a Parramatta line drop-out and it was Craig Polla Mounter yet again to hit the one-pointer to give the Bulldogs an eight-point lead with just under five minutes remaining.
Parramatta could only manage a further two points following a dangerous tackle by Jason Hetherington on former Bulldog Jim Dymock. The penalty goal was Parramatta's first points since the 63rd minute but it did get them within a converted try of Canterbury.
With the scoreboard now reading 26-20 the game was still somewhat in the balance. However the Bulldogs were certainly much fresher and continued to have the momentum.
On the back of a Parramatta error the Bulldogs put the Eels to sleep with just 90 seconds remaining when Travis Norton crashed over from close range.
Daryl Halligan landed the tough conversion, completing a memorable victory and securing the Bulldogs a spot in the decider against Brisbane.