It took a rising Immortal of the game to emerge like a beacon from the brawling and mayhem of the 1973 grand final between the Cronulla Sharks and Manly Sea Eagles at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Two sizzling tries by Manly centre Bob Fulton were the difference between the beachside clubs on a grey and overcast Saturday, September 15.
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The young Sharks club, just six seasons in the then NSW Rugby League premiership, went mighty close to springing a massive upset in a game that resembled a bar room brawl.
Manly beat the Sharks 14-4 in a tight semi-final to advance to the club's second successive grand final but the Sharks battled their way into the club's first grand final under the leadership of the club's two English internationals, Tommy Bishop and Cliff Watson.
Captain-coach Bishop was a fearless competitor; a scheming, aggressive and brilliant halfback – a typical English No.7 of the era. Watson was a miner who was as tough as his former profession and he had made an enormous impression in his time with the club.
Incredibly, Bishop told me recently he received $15,000 a season to captain and coach the Sharks!
As I recall it referee Keith Page let us get away with too much early in the game and the first 20 minutes was simply running in to flare-ups – usually started by Bishop – that ignited all over the field.
Three mass cautions took place in the first half alone. But the "next-man-off" warning from the referee never eventuated.
Both teams had big forward packs that refused to take a backward step. Unfortunately for the Sharks they were unlucky to come up against a club in the middle of a golden era and hungry for success.
The 1973 grand final side contained nine internationals in the 13-man run-on side – Graham Eadie, Ken Irvine, Ray Branighan, Bob Fulton, Malcolm Reilly (who later coached Newcastle), Terry Randall, John O'Neill, Fred Jones and Bill Hamilton. I was the lone non-international in the forward pack which club secretary Ken Arthurson had assembled to provide the foundation for four premierships in the 1970s – by far Manly's most successful era in its history.
A flick pass inside from wily captain and hooker Fred Jones for Bob Fulton to score was the only try of the first half. It was one of the first glimpses of actual football played in the opening 40 minutes!
The Sharks’ hooker Ron Turner hurled himself at Manly's English star Mal Reilly in the opening minutes as Reilly attempted a clearing kick. Turner’s knee collected Reilly's hip and the big Englishman was forced off the field. He returned 10 minutes later with the aid of painkilling needles and remarked he had only "10 minutes" to play.
In that timer he created havoc and managed to collide heavily with Sharks fullback Warren Fisher, who couldn't come back for the second half.
Very little that went on that day would be allowed in the game today... and rightly so. But it was a different game, in a different time.
A dazzling Fulton try from nothing gave Manly a buffer of 8-2 but a try to replacement fullback Rick Bourke and a conversion by 18-year-old centre Steve Rogers breathed new life into the Sharks before a Graham Eadie penalty from a scum near the Sharks’ posts gave Manly a 10-7 lead which was desperately defended until fulltime.
I have no hesitation in saying we were a touch lucky. The teenage Rogers missed several easy kicks in the windy conditions.
The Sharks managed to get our minds off football, and it took a great team – and one of the all-time greats in Fulton – to beat them.
Just five years later the Sharks were back in the finals again and once more it was Manly as their opponents in the grand final and subsequent grand final replay.
It finished 11-all in the grand final, with Rogers again astray with his goal-kicking and a late field-goal attempt.
Manly romped home 16-nil in the grand final replay, with centre Russell Gartner and fullback Graham Eadie the stars for Manly. Such was Manly's strength that they had eight players chosen for the 1978 Kangaroos Tour soon after the grand final replay.
Referee Greg Hartley caused plenty of controversy during the 1978 series, with seventh-tackle tries in the Manly v Parramatta semi-final and another in the grand final replay.
So the Sharks have plenty of history to turn around on Friday night against a club which has always stopped them with the ‘Holy Grail’ in sight.
It will be wonderful contest played with passion and pride... and a little bit of history. The beach boys – north and south – are ready to do battle again.
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