Bulldogs players celebrate.

The 2004 grand final was a match years in the making - the Bulldogs and the Roosters finally going head-to-head to decide who was the best side of the early 2000s.

After Canterbury was sent from first to last in 2002 due to a major salary cap breach, the Roosters claimed their first title in more than two decades.

The following season the Bulldogs did not make the premiership decider but the Roosters were upset on grand final night by Penrith.

In 2004, the two teams viewed by many NRL fans as the competition heavyweights met in the season's biggest match.

They entered the contest as the top two teams on the ladder throughout the regular season.

Missing their skipper Steve Price - who was injured in the preliminary final - the Bulldogs were soon on the back foot when Chris Walker opened the scoring for the Roosters after just 13 minutes.

Matt Utai hit back midway throughout the first half cutting the margin to two points, before a Hazem El Masri penalty goal levelled the scores.

The Roosters flexed their muscles before the break, with Brett Finch kicking a field goal and Anthony Minichiello crossing to give the Roosters a 13-6 advantage at halftime.

The Bulldogs wasted little time striking back in the second half; first when Utai claimed his second of the match. El Masri then crossed in the 53rd minute to give his side the lead for the first time.

That would be the final points in the grand final, with the Bulldogs holding on for the 16-13 win and their eighth premiership.

Bulldogs prop Willie Mason.
Bulldogs prop Willie Mason. ©NRL Photos

Best player

Willie Mason won the Clive Churchill Medal. His controlled aggression kept the Bulldogs going forward when they were behind during the first 40 minutes and then again in the second half when they were ahead.

Alongside fellow prop Mark O'Meley, he was a standout. His duel with Roosters hardman Adrian Morley was a feature of the contest.

Unsung hero

Credit has to go to Andrew Ryan and Brent Sherwin, who in Price's absence, had to step up and take leadership roles. Sherwin, in particular, did it to perfection, forcing mistakes from the Roosters and then helping keep his side ahead on the final 20 minutes.

The what-if moment

It was the Bulldogs's defensive effort in the second half that would turn out to be decisive, with the Roosters constantly threatening to regain the lead.

With around 27 minutes left in the match after the El Masri try, there was plenty of time, but the Roosters were not good enough against a top defensive display.

Play of the day

There was a key moment in the final minute, where Michael Crocker looked to have sliced through the defensive line, with some supporting players outside him. But before he could get any real momentum, stand-in captain Andrew Ryan made the crucial tackle. It forced an error from Crocker and sealed the result.

Bulldogs winger Hazem El Masri.
Bulldogs winger Hazem El Masri. ©NRL Photos

The quote

It was an emotional rollercoaster for Price, who was forced to watch the biggest match of his career from the sidelines. After the game it was still all about the teams as he remarked: "This will be the sweetest lap of honour I've ever had the opportunity to do.''

Recollection of a champion

Canterbury captain Andrew Ryan

Ryan remembers his first captaincy role since his school days for the confidence that the team held, even after losing Price.

"We had the confidence, especially with the bench that we had, to hang in and win games," Ryan said.

"I remember the Roosters just peppering our line in the second half, and we just jagged a couple of tries to go to the front.

"Then, I think it was Brad Fittler who threw this cracking cut out pass to Crocker and he hit the gap – I was lucky to get a bit on him and it was all over. But you know, I've never actually watched the whole game. But it's the best moment in footy that I have ever had."

Matt Utai bagged a double for Canterbury.
Matt Utai bagged a double for Canterbury. ©NRL Photos

Recollection of a runner-up

Roosters hooker Craig Wing

He admits the Roosters did not play as well as they could have, especially in the wet conditions.

"I remember the game, it was another wet one, but Brent Sherwin played really well," Wing said.

"We made a couple of missed tackles, easy missed tackles out wide and they got a couple of tries. We probably did not have as much composure as we should have in terms of closing that game out.

"It went backward and forward, backward and forward, then that try to Hazem El Masri broke our backs. It was there to be won, but that's a grand final for you. How you turn up on the day and perform."

The year after

It was a fall from grace for both of these teams following the grand final, with both Bulldogs and Roosters failing to make the finals in 2005.

The Roosters finished ninth with just 11 wins throughout the season, and the Bulldogs could only manage nine wins, finishing 12th.