Almanac Rugby League – Revelling in the glory

I’ve been lucky enough to watch Manly play in six grand finals, and even luckier to experience them winning three.

I love them all for different reasons, and the Sea Eagles’ 24-10 victory over the New Zealand Warriors is no different.

It had all the qualities that we celebrate the game of rugby league for, and it demonstrated them at the highest level. Perhaps this is the sort of contest that should be used by the NRL to promote the sport to those uninitiated to its rugged –and often violent – beauty.

And while it may not have been a game where the attacking football flowed from end to end, it was a tough, uncompromising contest punctuated by moments of sheer brilliance.

For almost three quarters of the game it was an arm wrestle that was slowly being won by Manly, and after William Hopoate put on an unbelievable no-look flick pass to put Glenn Stewart in to score the Sea Eagles’ third try, it seemed like the Sea Eagles had the game in the bag.

After Jamie Lyon converted the 57th minute try the score was only 18-2, but up until that point in the game the unpredictable flair of New Zealand Warriors had been well contained by Manly.

They were dictating terms and beginning to pull away with the match, making me – a Sea Eagles fan who was riding the team home from the comfort of my couch – feel quite comfortable.

As Grand Finals sometimes go, this was the point where either the floodgates began to open and Manly would run away with the result, or the Warriors would lift. For the benefit of the spectacle – and to the detriment to my blood pressure – they did the latter.

The three tries scored by Manly were all examples of what happens when team chemistry and confidence combine: the Daly Cherry-Evans inside ball to a flying Brett Stewart; the Glenn Stewart grubber to winger Michael Robertson inside his own half to kick start an attacking movement that resulted in a try to Cherry-Evans; and the Hoppa flick pass to Clive Churchill medalist Glenn.

The Warriors comeback continued the trend, and it all came off the back of an epic lift by their forwards who began to make in-roads through Manly’s ruck defence. It provided the perfect platform for prodigy halfback Shaun Johnson to weave his magic.

The way that he floated across the field at will in the final 20 minutes, turned defenders inside out and used his vision to create opportunities for his outside backs had me up out of my chair and my heart in my mouth.

Was I worried? A little…OK. A lot. After the Warriors put on those two quick tries the confident body language of the Sea Eagles was starting to evaporate. I began to think that perhaps I’d gone off too quickly.

A dozen minutes earlier it appeared like the game was going to become a one-sided contest, but an 18-10 score line with only 10 to go gave us the kind of finish that a grand final deserves, and it’s a testament to Manly’s grit and determination that they were able to withstand the Warriors’ late charge and seal the match with a Jamie Lyon try in the shadows of full time.

This was a grand final that was won by attitude and taking full advantage of whatever opportunities a team could get their hands on.

This was evident in the first scoring options for both teams. When the Warriors were given a penalty in kicking range of the Manly goalposts, they took the two points on offer. Several minutes later, Manly were awarded a penalty in the corresponding section of the Warriors half. They spurned the chance to level the scores, continued their attack, and scored a try not long afterwards.

Cherry-Evans’ try just before half time was another example of Manly’s confidence in their ability to strike when it mattered most.

And while this may have appeared to have deserted them as the Warriors started gathering momentum in the back end of the game, it was a testament to the Sea Eagles’ toughness that they were able to turn back the tide before it completely overwhelmed them and strike the final blow.

Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler was right when he said that his team were deserved winners, but the Warriors showed that they are capable of being an elite team in this competition. They never gave up, and almost clawed their way back into a position to win after being outmatched for the majority of the game.

While it may have given me the kind of nerve-racking finish that is occasionally the bane of a sports fan’s existence, it made the victory just that much sweeter.

And I’ll be enjoying the taste until next October.

MANLY 24 (Tries: B. Stewart, Cherry-Evans, G. Stewart, Lyon Goals: Lyon 3/3, Robertson 1/1)

NEW ZEALAND 10 (Tries: Vatuvei, Taylor Goals: Maloney 1/3)

Venue: ANZ Stadium

Crowd: 81,988

Votes: 3 – Glenn Stewart (Manly), 2- Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly), 1- Brett Stewart (Manly)

Lindsey Cuthbertson

About Nick Tedeschi

Nick Tedeschi was the chief rugby league writer at Punting Ace for five years after a career in politics and bookmaking. He has written freelance for a number of organisations including Back Page Lead, Crikey and Betfair and now runs his own website. He writes an annual NRL betting preview and is a diehard Canterbury fan who lists Craig Polla-Mounter, David Stagg, Tony Grimaldi and Daryl Halligan as his favourite players.

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