Andrew Bryan, NRL.com
The 2000 Preliminary Final between the Newcastle Knights and Sydney Roosters at the Sydney Football Stadium was an epic encounter between two dominant teams of the era.
Newcastle boasted Andrew and Matthew Johns, Matthew Gidley, Danny Buderus and Ben Kennedy, while the Roosters had their own rooster of bona fide stars including Anthony Minichiello, Adrian Lam, Ryan Cross, Brad Fittler, Craig Fitzgibbon and Luke Ricketson.
It was a mouth-watering clash with a Grand Final berth on the line.
The two teams did not disappoint.
It was an intriguing battle, with the Knights’ defence rushing up relentlessly on the outside to stop the Roosters’ electric backline. Equally, the Roosters continued to probe and look for ways to get around Newcastle’s rushing defence.
It made for an enthralling contest.
The Roosters were denied tries on three separate occasions due to forward passes, while Andrew Johns was pulling the strings at the other end to help guide Newcastle to a 16-2 halftime lead.
In the 50th minute, Fittler found himself in traffic and linked with Luke Phillips, who put in a grubber for his outside men; a young Anthony Minichiello picked up the ball around his knees, gathered himself then threw the ball back on the inside to Phillips, who had been backing up, to score under the posts and claw the scoreline back to 16-8.
Two minutes later, Fittler launched himself at a Johns pass, took the intercept and raced away – suddenly it was 16-14 and the Roosters were coming home strong!
When the tricolours went down the blindside and again found space behind the Knights’ left-hand defence, Minichiello had all the time in the world to run 40 metres, draw fullback Adam MacDougall and pass inside to put Cross over.
In the space of five minutes the Roosters had scored three tries and the Preliminary Final had been turned on its head. Roosters 20, Knights 16.
By the time the Roosters had increased their lead to 26-16 in the 66th minute, via Shannon Hegarty after a cut-out pass from Fittler, the Bondi team had run in 24 unanswered points!
But Newcastle weren’t done with.
With 10 minutes remaining, Matthew Johns changed the point of the attack, with Buderus and Andrew Johns firing passes that ended with Timana Tahu crossing in the corner. The game would go down to the wire. Roosters 26, Knights 20.
With two minutes remaining, Andrew Johns found himself in the backfield with six defenders chasing, but a tackle forced the ball loose and the Roosters’ dramatic comeback was complete.
While Roosters fans crowed loudly they would fall short in the 2000 decider, going down to Brisbane 14-6.