Almanac Rugby League – The first of many

Nearly 82,000 people ventured to Homebush from every point on the compass to witness the 2011 NRL showdown between the Sea Eagles and the Warriors. Around the country, BBQs were in full swing, with some fans just about to watch their third League Grand Final for the day having witnessed exciting finales to the undercard matches.

In bygone days, those very same BBQs would be starting to wind down at 5:30pm, with the leftovers becoming ingredients on toasted sandwiches. And of course what was left in the bottom of the bath tub would wash those sandwiches down.

Unfortunately it was usually only a six pack of Sydney Bitter which some ne’r do well had brought then consumed a dozen Tooheys or VBs belonging to someone else.

After the extraordinary experience of hearing two National anthems at an Australian Grand Final, the two teams set the scene with early defensive pressure and it wasn’t until the 28th minute that Manly’s old school prop “Gorgeous” George Rose gave the Kiwis 2 points with a careless ”John Donnelly”-style elbow to the head of Aaron Heremaia.

Much of the pre-game excitement had centred on the battle of the scrumhalves, Dale Cherry-Evans for Manly and New Zealand’s Shaun Johnson. When Cherry-Evans gave a sweet inside ball to Brett Stewart who scored, the Sea Eagle rookie proved that he was up to the occasion. Jamie Lyon converted and the Sea Eagles led by 6-2 after half an hour.

Moments before half time Manly forward Glenn Stewart showed remarkable foresight (or had a massive brain explosion) when he grubber kicked from inside his own 20. Manly rake Matt Ballin gathered the kick in space, turning defence into attack and on the next play Cherry-Evans ran, dummied and scored adjacent to the uprights.

This critical try put the Eagles up 12-2 at the break and while some would argue that Manly should’ve been penalised for obstruction, the record books will show the four-pointer against the name D. Cherry-Evans.

The first fifteen minutes of the second half was dominated by dropped ball, with the Warriors, in particular, unable to gain any continuity through completed sets. In the 57th minute, Will Hopoate drew three Warrior defenders before throwing a miracle flick pass to Glenn Stewart who scored out wide and when Lyon converted, the Manly faithful were singing like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

With 20 minutes to go and their season slipping into oblivion, the Warriors need to come up with something. And they did. Scrumhalf Johnson mesmerised the Manly defence before sending a beautiful cut-out pass to Manu ‘The Beast’ Vatuvei, who plunged over in the corner.

Despite missing the conversion Johnson had given the Warriors the lift it needed, setting the stage for a stirring final quarter of the match. Six minutes later Johnson again made room for his outside backs this time Elijah Taylor benefitting from a long pass to score in the right-hand corner.

Maloney once again missed the conversion, affording the Sea Eagles the advantage of an eight-point lead going into the final ten minutes. A late try to Jamie Lyon, converted by Michael Robertson, sealed the premiership in what was ultimately a well-deserved victory for the Sea Eagles.

The Warriors lost no fans for their spirited effort and the performance of young guns Johnson and Locke at the highest level, coupled with back-to-back Toyota Cup premierships, suggests that Kiwi fans can look forward to another strong showing in 2012.

The crucial statistic from the game is the poor completion rate by the Warriors, with only 24 of 38 sets completed. This stymied their ability to build any continuity in attack and resulted in them having to make 93 more tackles than the Sea Eagles. In a Grand Final, that is enough to make the difference, especially in the last ten minutes.

The battle of the halfbacks lived up to expectations with Cherry-Evans getting the points ahead of Johnson and with both players showing maturity and composure beyond their years. We can expect many more showdowns between these two young guns at the NRL and International level.

Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney

Crowd: 81,988

Manly Sea Eagles 24 (Tries: D. Cherry-Evans, J. Lyon, B. Stewart, G. Stewart; Goals: J. Lyon 3, M. Robertson)

New Zealand Warriors 10 (Tries: E. Taylor, M. Vatuvei; Goal: J. Maloney)

Votes: 3 – Glenn Stewart, 2 – Dale Cherry-Evans, 1. Shaun Johnson

Clive Churchill Medal: Glenn Stewart


Leave a Comment