Almanac Rugby League – You may not like the teams but you had to like the game they played

Many-Warringah Sea Eagles 24 d. New Zealand Warriors 10
JJ Leahy

If you support a team in any sporting competition, over time you will inevitably develop a pecking order of the other participants from your next favoured to your most disliked. For most supporters of teams other than this years grand finalists, this meant their least favoured teams contested the great day. New Zealand Warriors because they are not Australian, and Manly, well, because they are Manly.

The Warriors joined the NRL in 1995 and have played in one previous Grand Final. Most seasons, they have finished in the bottom half of the competition. At times, they have played some very attractive football, but lacked the ruthlessness to strangle opposing teams and the precision of execution to do it for the full 80 minutes of a game. However, in the last couple of seasons, the coaching staff led by Ivan Cleary, and the emergence of some richly talented young players in key play making positions, has made them a more formidable opponent. They lost badly to the Broncos in the first week of the finals, but rebounded strongly in the next two games including an impressive second half performance to end the season of the premiership favourites, the Melbourne Storm.



There are many reasons people don’t like Manly . Some include –

– because they are successful

– because for many years they were richer than other teams and were able to pinch their best players. In some cases, these players spent seasons in the Reserve Grade so that they did not pose a threat to the Manly Firsts

– because they seem to enjoy a dream run at the Judiciary

– because they wielded great influence at the highest levels of the game especially during the tenure of Ken Arthurson as President of the Australian Rugby League


Manly have enjoyed success in recent years. After losing the 2007 Grand Final to the Melbourne Storm, they won the 2008 premiership against the Storm by 40-Nil after inspirational Melbourne Captain Cameron Smith was suspended by the Judiciary for a tackle in an earlier finals match. This year, Manly had two players reported the previous week, but one was found to have no case to answer, and the other took an early plea and did not incur a suspension.


Manly are coached by Des Hasler, a former long term Manly and Australian player. Des is a former school teacher and, although he is approaching 50, sports the long brown hair of a ’70s surfer or a soft-rock band lead singer. Des has the honour of having his biography written by Thomas Keneally, the Booker Prize winning novelist. In the Manly district, this is considered to be Keneally’s best work. Des is a very astute and hard working coach. He has assembled a team that has been predominantly developed within the Club, unlike earlier times when the cheque book bought the talent. He has the mix of ingredients that make for a successful Rugby League team –


– a couple of abrasive characters in Watmough and Matai who can unsettle their opponents by playing at the margins of legality in the brutality of their approach


– big powerful forwards who can create the momentum required to get “field position” and thus enable their fast and skilled players to exploit attacking opportunities


– very gifted playmakers in the Stewart brothers and the young halfback/five-eight pairing of Daly Cherry-Evans and Keiran Foran


The first thirty minutes saw each side charge forward in both attack and defence with both very evenly matched. The Warriors were inclined to take the ball wider seeking chinks in the defence. Manly were more direct up the middle. The referee ruled that a Warriors player lost the ball in a tackle when it looked like to had been stripped by the Manly defenders. It gave Manly an opportunity close to the line and Cherry-Evans drifted across field and turned the ball inside to Brett Stewart at pace. The Warriors defence had not covered, and the first try was on the board. The Warriors seemed to tire but managed to keep Manly out. Just on half time, they had Manly pinned deep inside their own 22 metre line. Then came one of those moments of football brilliance that bring joy to the heart. The Warriors were expecting Manly to take one more tackle and kick downfield, defend a few tackles and wait for the half-time siren. Glen Stewart noticed that the Warriors left side defenders had drifted infield. He put through a grubber kick towards the sideline. The Manly winger regathered and raced downfield. The ball was transferred to a supporting player Ballin who was tackled short of the line. It was swept to the left and Cherry-Evans was over under the posts. Half-time Manly leading 12-2.


Manly held firm for the first 20 minutes of the second half scoring a fine try when captain Jamie Lyon leapt high and knocked a kick back to William Hopoate who dashed for the corner. When covered and in danger of going over the sideline, he  threw a beautiful flick pass inside to Glen Stewart to score. Then came six or seven minutes of desperation and exquisite skill. Shaun Johnson, the Warriors halfback, has only played 15 senior games. He has a strong touch football background. He has a set of skills that are honed in that game, and are not possessed by many League players. Benji Marshall, and Adrian Lam, in an earlier time, are similarly gifted. Johnson got the ball about 15 metres from the Manly line, stepped to the right, swung back to the left to straighten up the defence, and, in the same motion, threw a long pass out to the giant winger Vatuvei who scored in the corner. A few minutes later, Johnson hoisted a high ball, that Vatuvei shuffled to Maloney who went over under the posts.. The ball was ruled to have been knocked forward. Johnson was not yet finished, and a couple of minutes later, after the Warriors had charged into the Manly 22, he skipped across to the right side of the field, twice propped for a fraction of a second before stepping right again. It halted four defenders in their tracks,and he shot a long pass to Elijah Taylor who went over in the corner. Manly were stunned by this onslaught that had the score at 18-10 with 12 minutes to go. Manly drew on their reserves of determination, and thwarted the Warriors surge. A last minute to try Jamie Lyon pushed the score a little beyond the closeness of the contest. Retiring player, Michael Robertson was giving the ball for the conversion among of throng of jubilant players and hangers-on. He calmly slotted it over the black dot.


This game had elements of pure skill and brilliance that lifted it above the normal fare of Grand Finals. You may not like the teams, but you have to like the game they played.








  1. Greg Mallory says

    very good article JJ

    Glen Stewart & Cherry Evans best players on the field, Hopoate’s pass was a beauty

  2. John Butler says


    Transpose Manly with Collingwood, take the elevator down to working class, and we Melbournians know what you mean. :)

    I know the Storm were stripped of the 2007 flag. Where Manly awarded it? Or did it just disappear?

    Pardon my ignorance.

  3. John Butler

    I think the official record does not record a premiership winner for the years where Melbourne were stripped of the titles.

    I had an experience of the passion of Collingwood supporters some years ago. My eldest son played AFL for the Sherwood Magpies in Brisbane in the Under 7 and Under 8 teams before we started a junior Rugby Union club in the area. At training one night I ran into a bloke I knew, ex-Victorian. He lived on the other side of town and had to drive past many junior AFL clubs so that his son could play in a Magpies jumper.


  4. I actually liked Collingwood of 2000-2002, then they got too arrogant and rude and that was it for me…

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