The Sydney Roosters face the ignominy of being just the second minor premiers in NRL history to exit the finals in straight sets should they lose to Canterbury in Friday’s semi-final.
The St George-Illawarra side of 2009 remain the only team to bow out of September in the second week of the finals after finishing the regular season on top of the ladder.
The Roosters will join them if they go down to the Bulldogs at Allianz Stadium.
The news wasn’t good on Thursday after losing co-captain Mitchell Pearce on game eve due to a hamstring injury.
Having missing the past three matches, including the first-up qualifying final loss to Melbourne, it was hoped the representative halfback would return to lead the team.
But despite taking part in Thursday’s captain’s run, the risk was deemed too great for coach Trent Robinson, who will turn to 19-year-old playmaker Jackson Hastings again to partner five-eighth James Maloney.
“We know that he’s playing good footy and he’s comfortable there,” Robinson said of Hastings.
Defeat against a Bulldogs side also missing first-choice halfback Trent Hodkinson will bring an early end for Robinson’s side, considered by many as certainties to make the decider.
It will also leave the foundation club with just the one premiership in 2013 despite finishing on top of the competition ladder three seasons in a row.
In the Roosters’ favour is their recent record over the Dogs – last year’s grand finalists – winning five of their past six meetings, including both matches this season.
The Bulldogs were blown away by a first-half blitzkrieg in their most recent clash, but coach Des Hasler said recent results had no impact in finals meetings and predicted a tight-fought contest.
“Finals footy is a bit different. It’s more important that we know the side that we’re playing, and they’re a super side,” he said.
“They’ve got every facet of the game covered. Their roster is brilliant and it’s going to be a pretty tough game.
“It certainly is all on the line. With sudden death brings desperate footy, and both sides will be putting it all out there.”
The winner will go on to meet Brisbane for a place in the grand final.
STATS THAT MATTER:
* The Bulldogs have won five of their past six finals matches against the Roosters
* Since Trent Robinson took over in 2013, the Roosters have won five of six matches against the Bulldogs
* The Roosters still boast the best attack (24.4 points per game) and defence (12.8 points per game) in the competition
* Josh Morris will play his 150th match for the Bulldogs, and needs one more try to bring up 100 for his career
* James Maloney requires just five points to overtake Ivan Cleary as the club’s third-highest leading pointscorer