Cullen masterclass a great sign for Manly
Four quality halves headlined the Intrust Super Cup Grand Final on Sunday afternoon and it meant the contest was always going to be decided by the playmakers.
Burleigh farewelled two quality footballers in Manly bound five-eighth Cameron Cullen and Parramatta bound halfback Jamal Fogarty, with both set to chase their NRL dreams in 2017.
It was Cullen who stole the show, putting in an exceptional performance that helped his side pull off an historic 26-16 win and claim their first Queensland Cup title since 2004.
He outplayed a Redcliffe side that boasted the talents of former Broncos five-eighth Zach Strasser and off-contract Broncos halfback Darren Nicholls, with the latter a late inclusion for the Dolphins as he made a surprising return from a quad tear.
Nicholls was brave all match despite clearly not being at 100 per cent and playing much of the game on one leg.
Even so, his inclusion proved to be a masterstroke early on in the clash, with his kicking game outshining that of opposite number Fogarty.
Despite Nicholls' efforts it was the Burleigh six who struck first blood, with Cullen finding Kurtis Rowe with an outstanding ball that put his fullback through a gaping hole. Rowe pinned the ears back to run 35 metres and score the first try of the match.
Sea Eagles officials will be licking their lips at the ball-playing skills of the former Gold Coast Titan, with Cullen mesmerising the Dolphins' defensive line from the get-go.
Redcliffe hit back minutes later, but it didn't take long for Cullen to find Rowe again at close range, with the 23-year-old making it two try assists in the first 23 minutes. Rowe bulldozed his way over Dolphins halfback Nicholls to give his side a 12-4 lead.
Cullen almost made it three try assists in 25 minutes, with a huge dummy putting him through Redcliffe's line before the play came unstuck metres from the try line.
The Dolphins reduced the margin to four in the 33rd minute, courtesy of a superb grubber kick from hooker Shane Pumipi that found Tyson Cleal. Pumipi put together a superb first half that perhaps outshone Redcliffe's highly fancied halves pairing.
But the star of the first half was Cullen, with the Burleigh five-eighth looking dangerous every time he touched the football.
Cullen's extraordinary game continued in the second half, drawing the man to find Rowe who then found Sami Sauiluma for a four-pointer. Fogarty converted from the sideline to make it four from four conversions for the halfback – giving the Bears a 20-10 lead after 50 minutes.
Minutes later, Cullen again split the Dolphins' defensive line, running down the short side from dummy half to get his side out of trouble.
Not to be outdone, a brilliant solo effort from Nicholls got Redcliffe back into the game. In a run reminiscent of the great Cooper Cronk, Nicholls attacked the defensive line from close range to dummy and score next to the posts. Nicholls' efforts on one leg helped reduce the margin to four points with just over 20 minutes to go in what was fast becoming a thrilling decider.
To cap off a man-of-the-match performance, the little five-eighth made another line break to score the match-winning try and send the Burleigh faithful into raptures.
It was a performance of the finest quality and he won't look out of place in a Sea Eagles jersey in 2017.