Five defining plays of the Grand Final
1. Taking The Two
The Warriors were arguably the most-feared attacking side in the competition, capable of blowing any opposition away given even the slightest opportunity. So it came as a huge surprise when skipper Simon Mannering opted to slow things down and bank a ‘safe’ two points to open the grand final scoring when awarded a penalty for a George Rose elbow on Aaron Heremaia in the 28th minute. A kick for touch from 40 metres out would have seen the Warriors threaten the Manly try line from close range. Instead they jogged back to halfway with the narrowest of advantages. A Warriors penalty goal to open the scoring? Who’d have predicted that!
2. The Inside Running
Manly seized possession after the restart – albeit in questionable circumstances after a Steve Matai tackle assist on Feleti Mateo saw the ball dislodged. Soon after, the Sea Eagles earned a penalty when Warrior James Maloney was ruled to have interfered with Anthony Watmough in the play-the-ball. It was here Manly made a statement: rather than go for tit-for-tat penalty goals, they instead kicked for touch and then rolled the dice. And how did those dice fall for the Warriors? Snake eyes! On just tackle two, halfback Daly Cherry-Evans took the ball at first receiver and popped an inside pass to a flying Brett Stewart who sliced through the centre of the ruck to touch down for a 6-2 lead on the half hour.
3. Grubber Or Bust
When Kevin Locke followed through on a clearing kick in the 40th minute and tackled Brett Stewart just a few metres out from the Manly goal line, it should have been curtains for the first half. But not on Glenn Stewart’s watch; the creative lock threw caution to the wind to dab a delicate grubber through the Warriors’ outside backs 20 metres out from his line on the right fringe. The ball was gathered by Michael Robertson, who sped downfield before colliding with team-mate Daly Cherry-Evans. Not held, ‘Robbo’ ran again before offloading to Matt Ballin who was brought down seven metres shy of the Warriors’ line. The ball then found its way to Cherry-Evans, who sensed the defence eyeing decoy runner Shane Rodney. The nimble No.7 went himself, scoring beside the right upright for a 12-2 lead. It was a gut-buster 40 seconds from which the Warriors never recovered.
4. Shaun Of The Undead
The Warriors looked buried when Glenn Stewart crossed off a William Hopoate flick pass in the 57th minute, catapulting the Sea Eagles out to an 18-2 lead. But then Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson kicked into gear. In the 62nd minute, on the back of a 40-metre solo burst from five-eighth James Maloney, Johnson took charge. He relentlessly probed for opportunities to get the visitors over the stripe and back into the game. He swivelled, drifted laterally to the left, all the while showing the ball – in almost a repeat of his heroics against the Storm in the Qualifying Final – before shooting a bullet pass to big Manu Vatuvei who scored in the corner. Still alive at 18-6. Six minutes later he drifted right and found Elijah Taylor, who skipped out of Steve Matai’s tackle attempt for an 18-10 scoreline to set up a nail-biting final 10 minutes.
5. The Last Hurrah
The Warriors continued to throw the Steeden around as if it had funnel web spiders hanging off it – and it oh so nearly got them within a scoring play of recording a stunning comeback win and a maiden premiership. With no plan other than to keep the ball alive, halfback Johnson initiated another stunning raid after a bungled last-tackle play. Reclaiming ball after it had been flung back to no-one, Johnson grubber kicked for himself from 40 metres out, regathered and palmed the ball to support Kevin Locke, who did likewise to centre Lewis Brown. Brown passed to winger Manu Vatuvei who when collared linked again with Brown on the wraparound just a metre in from the left sideline. Brown managed a miraculous grubber into Manly’s in-goal – but when Daly Cherry-Evans seized possession, the Warriors had done their dash. Stunning to the end nonetheless.