Bulldogs fans will be ready to give Sonny Bill Williams the reception they’ve been waiting five years to deliver
It’s a long standing rivalry being played for the 170th occasion, but not much will live up to the rivalry forged between the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and the Sydney Roosters in the last decade.
In 2002, the Roosters won what many Bulldogs fans thought was rightfully their premiership after a 17 game unbeaten run was ended and the club stripped of all its competition points following a heavy breach of the salary cap. It began a perceived resentment from Bulldogs fans towards the Roosters.
In 2003 they had two classic clashes billed as the battle for the previous season’s best team, and both which were won by the Bulldogs. In the first affair, which was at the time one of the most hyped regular season matches in history, Matt Utai scored in the corner in the 79th minute to break a 26-26 deadlock, while they comfortably won the return affair a month later. The Roosters got their revenge, advancing to the 2003 grand final with a 28-18 preliminary final win.
Things got even more heated in 2004 when the sides met in the decider for the first time in 24 years. The Bulldogs again got the biscuits in a tense finish, but that was only the beginning of the drama.
After both had horror seasons in 2005, things were changed. Star Bulldogs five-eighth Braith Anasta made a big money move across town to the Roosters, with Nate Myles following him in 2007 after the Eastern Suburbs club sacked Ricky Stuart.
In 2008, Bulldogs enforcers Willie Mason and Mark O’Meley made high-profile moves across town to join Anasta and Myles, and to make matters worse, mid-way through that season Sonny Bill Williams walked out on the club to play rugby union in France.
In contrast, 2008 was a successful year for the Tricolours, with the former Bulldogs players enjoying a big win when they faced off against Canterbury in Round Four. They charged into the second week of the finals under rookie coach Brad Fittler, while Canterbury claimed their first wooden spoon (salary cap penalties aside) since 1964. That year cost coach Steve Folkes his job, and while both have had inconsistent success since, the rivalry has simmered in the background.
That was until November 2012, when former Bulldogs superstar Sonny Bill Williams confirmed he would be returning to the NRL with the Sydney Roosters. The rivalry was instantly re-ignited, and the 38-0 thrashing handed out by the Roosters in Round Six has only heightened the tension ahead of this game.
State of Origin players may be missing, but that won’t shouldn’t impact the lead-up. SBW is returning home, and the Bulldogs fans will be ready to give him the reception they’ve been waiting five years to deliver.
Jim Beam Smooth Move of the Week
With the game on the line in those big moments, the great players step up. That’s exactly what Kieran Foran did on Friday night, with a neat (admittedly fortuitous) chip kick to send Steve Matai over in the 79th minute and set up Jamie Lyon’s game winning conversion. It was a futile exercise eventually, but amazing theatre nonetheless.