Bragging rights are only part of the reward for the winning team in Friday night’s Manly-Melbourne blockbuster at Brookvale Oval, because history also awaits the victors.
Back-to-back grand final showdowns between these clubs in 2007 and 2008 generated a rivalry that will last for years to come and there is no shortage of animosity on the part of the Sea Eagles, who are aggrieved that they lost the 2007 grand final to a team that was later found to have flouted the salary cap.
But while both teams appear to be settled into their positions at the top of the competition ladder, there is no suggestion that either will be taking short-cuts in their approach to this game.
Manly have the chance to finish the season with the perfect record of 10 wins from 10 games at Brookvale. It would be the first time in 15 years that they have won every home game.
For Melbourne, they have the opportunity to achieve their best ever results in a season away from home. In 10 games outside Victoria, the Storm have won nine and lost one (to North Queensland) and a win over the Sea Eagles will give them 10 wins away from home for the first time.
Their previous best effort was nine wins from 12 games in 2006 and 2007.
When the Sea Eagles last went through a season undefeated at Brookvale, in 1996, they cruised to the premiership title. They lost only four games throughout the season and at Brookvale they were only seriously extended by eventual grand final opponents St George, who played their part in a slugfest on a wet Friday night early in the season. In 80 minutes of missed opportunities, Manly centre Terry Hill scored the only try in a dour 6-2 win by the home side. Referee David Manson and his in-goal officials disallowed five tries in the heavy conditions.
The Sea Eagles finished that regular season with the perfect record of 11 wins from 11 games at Brookvale. They had been unbeaten at home before, but never in the home-and-away era which commenced in 1974.
Prior to that, they were undefeated at Brookvale in 1973 (eight wins and a draw), 1972 (eight wins), 1969 (seven wins), 1968 (six wins) and 1952 (five wins). In that period their biggest-drawing games (usually against heavyweights Souths and St George) were transferred to the Sydney Cricket Ground where they had match-of-the-day status.
But while a 10 out of 10 record would be a proud achievement by this year’s Sea Eagles it would fall short, in a technical sense, of a perfect record for home games in 2011. That record was spoilt back in Round 21 when Manly’s transferred home game against Wests Tigers resulted in a 14-12 loss at Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford.
The Sea Eagles also switched a home game against Brisbane to Suncorp Stadium for a Round 12 double-header. They won that night 34-10.
Melbourne will chase further history in this match as they attempt to equal the all-time record for most premiership points accrued in a season. Ironically the record was held by Manly’s 1983 team who finished with 44 competition points until it was equalled by the Storm in 2006 and again in 2007. If they win here, the Storm will then go in search of a new mark in their final round clash with the Sydney Roosters at the SFS.
Two teams with powerful motivations should guarantee a contest of the highest quality.