The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs were one of the teams to beat heading into the 2001 finals series and while Parramatta were runaway minor premiers and hot favourites for the title, their old enemy from Belmore still finished the regular season in second place.
This was a hardened Dogs outfit with Steve Price, Darren Britt, Willie Mason and Paul Rauhihi up front – ably supported by Corey Hughes, Adam Perry and Steve Reardon. Darrell ‘Tricky’ Trindall and Darren Smith in the halves, Luke Patten at the back. Strike weapons Nigel Vagana and Willie Talau in the centres and a goal-kicking machine on the wing by the name of ‘El Magic’.
Week one of the finals saw heartbreak for Canterbury as they were beaten 23-22 by St George Illawarra at the Sydney Showground.
A showdown with Cronulla-Sutherland in Week Two loomed but Canterbury would have to do it without their Dally M Rookie of the Year Braith Anasta who was ruled out of the Sydney Football Stadium clash with a thumb injury.
The Sharks had finished the season 4th and defeated Brisbane in the opening match of the finals at Shark Park 22-6.
Much of the media hype surrounded the firing Eels who seemed destined to win their first premiership since 1986. If it wasn’t on the Eels, it was on Newcastle’s Andrew Knights. Or Brad Fittler and the Sydney Roosters.
The previous night saw the Broncos smash the Dragons and eliminate them from the competition with a resounding 44-28 triumph.
Canterbury wasn’t prepared for the ambush that was about to hit them at the SFS on the 16th of September 2001.
Cronulla – themselves littered with big names like Mat Rogers, David Peachey, Jason Stevens and 2001 Dally M Medallist Preston Campbell – were on the cusp of their best performance of the season and hand the Bulldogs one of their biggest ever finals losses.
SEEING OFF A FUTURE WALLABY
Sharks legend Mat Rogers had agreed to a massive contract to jump ship to rugby union with the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia just around the corner and the Sunday afternoon meeting against the Bulldogs at the SFS may well have been the last time he ever played in the NRL.
“They’d [Bulldogs] always had such good semi-final records,” Rogers told sharks.com.au.
“And we were a bit under the pump. That’s when they rose, that was when they played their best football. I remember Langy [John Lang] being pretty focussed, telling us to have our heads on, and knowing what we were up for. It was a pretty good feeling that day. It’s a game that sticks in my memory.”
Rogers wouldn’t have much to worry about finishing with a try and seven goals for a personal tally on the day of 18 points and prolonging his NRL career for another week.
LANG GRABS RARE MEAT PIE
Martin Lang was best known as a fearless, bustling front-rower who took plenty of shots during his long career. But one of his crowning achievements was his slashing effort to score untouched under the sticks at the northern end of the ground off a Jason Stevens short-ball.
One for the front-rowers union to frame and hang above the bar.
Since his debut in 1996, Lang had crossed the chalk on just one other occasion.
The four-pointer against Canterbury would be his second and final try in the NRL despite going on to play another 68 first grade games.
PEACH OF A DAY
Occasionally overlooked in an era of incredible fullbacks, you’d be hard pressed finding a Sharks supporter who would ever trade David Peachey who was one of the time’s great entertainers. ‘The Peach’ was a class above against Canterbury at the SFS and easily out-pointed his opposite Luke Patten.
“There’s not too many games you remember in your career, but that was certainly one of them,” Rogers added.