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2011 grand final rewind: Sea Eagles end Warriors' dream run

For the Warriors, the 2011 grand final was a chance to make amends for their only other trip to the title decider.

For the Sea Eagles, it was a chance to become one of the few teams in the NRL to win two grand finals within a short period of time.

Manly walked away from ANZ Stadium with a 22-12 triumph to give them a second title in four years following their 40-0 record rout of Melbourne in 2008.

The Warriors - outclassed 30-8 in their previous grand final appearances in 2002 - were again left to lament what might have been.

In an interesting twist, both coaches would leave their post to head elsewhere in 2012 – Des Hasler departed Manly for Canterbury while Warriors mentor Ivan Cleary headed to Penrith.

A look back at the 2011 Grand Final

Best player

Glenn Stewart was at the peak of his powers in this game, the ball-playing lock proving to be the ideal extra attacking option for Manly alongside young halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran.

There was controversy in the post-game ceremony when he collected the Clive Churchill Medal. He confronted NRL CEO David Gallop over the treatment of Stewart's brother Brett. The Manly fullback had been suspended by the NRL over an incident at the club's season launch.

Unsung hero

Will Hopoate was just a young winger on this team but his impact was immense. He made 219 metres for Manly, getting them on the front foot early in sets with powerful kick returns. Considered the hottest young property in the Telstra Premiership, he would not play again until 2014 after spending the next two years competing a Mormon missionary.

Clive Churchill Medal winner Glenn Stewart.
Clive Churchill Medal winner Glenn Stewart. ©NRL Photos

The what-if moment

Krisnan Inu made a great break from inside his own territory early in the second half but after beating a handful of defenders. He then fumbled the ball in the tackle and what could have been a promising Warriors raid turned into a Manly counter-attack.

A couple of minutes later Glenn Stewart scored off a Hopoate flick pass to give the Sea Eagles an unassailable 18-2 lead.

The play of the day

Manly led 6-2 late in the first half and were deep in their own territory with less than a minute on the clock when Glenn Stewart dribbled a high-risk kick across the field for winger Michael Robertson to scoop it up and ran 70 metres. With the Warriors' defence scrambling, Cherry-Evans capitalised on the next play to score and make it a 12-2 lead at the break.

The quote

"We played well all year and I think everyone would have to agree we were deserved winners tonight. A great culture, a great club." – Manly coach Des Hasler after being interviewed by Channel 9 on the field straight after full-time.

Des Hasler after the grand final win.
Des Hasler after the grand final win. ©NRL Photos

Recollection of a champion

Manly hooker Matt Ballin

"We were probably playing second fiddle to Melbourne for most of the year, even though internally as a team we felt like we had it over them.

"One of the main turning points was that brawl at Brookvale (in round 25, eventually won 18-4 by Manly) when Glenn Stewart and Adam Blair went at it. It was one of those games we realised we could beat them.

"That was the real turning point for us. They went on and lost to the Warriors. As a team, we got a lot of confidence out of that game and kept that momentum going through to the grand final.

"We got it over [the Warriors] pretty well. They came back a little but they never really looked like winning. We felt like we were the better side and that was probably obvious in the way we played.

"Before the game, Glenn came back and said 'we know we're better than these guys' – not being arrogant but he said it with confidence. 'We're the better team so let's go out and play like that' and that's exactly what we did.

"They went up 2-0 with a penalty goal to James Maloney but we came over the top of them with our defence which was some of the best I've seen in any grand final, we just had really good line speed and really aggressive defence.

"We just had a lot of confidence in each others' ability.

"People grubbering in your own end doesn't happen too much in grand finals but we all knew Glenn had that skill set, he did it and we backed him and that was evident of how the game went.

"That second half they came back when Feleti Mateo started throwing offloads, they're pretty dangerous but I felt like we handled it pretty well.

"You know at some point they're going to come back and do those things, it's how well you manage it and we had players in that side that had won in 2008, been there in 2007 and lost and knew how to manage that situation."

The jubilant Manly team.
The jubilant Manly team. ©NRL Photos

Recollection of a runner-up

Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson

"I remember the feeling of running out … it's probably the one thing I won't ever forget. I saw the crowd and got goosebumps. Just as I got that these flames went off either side of where we ran out and I thought 'holy!' I did a 360 of the stadium and I was blown away by that feeling.

"My first year, I didn't probably comprehend how hard it was to make a grand final or if I'd ever make one again. I just thought, 'How good's this? Playing in the NRL.'

"A lot of it is a blur, I'm pretty sure we got up a little lead through a penalty and they scored on half-time which hurt.

Manu Vatuvei leaps for the try line.
Manu Vatuvei leaps for the try line. ©NRL Photos

"The second half we had to chase a bit and play ad-lib footy. Manu [Vatuvei] went over in the left and Elijah [Taylor] went over in the right.

"That period stands out for me, it was what we were known for. But they sealed it with a try of their own in the second half.

"That's all I remember from the game, I saw where my family was sitting nice and early so that helped and was special.

"If we had to lose one now after working so hard to get to one I definitely think I would take it a lot harder. But, first year, it was an absolute buzz and I just thought oh well we'll get there next year or the year after.

"I didn't take the loss probably fully to heart because it was an awesome experience."

The year after

The Warriors turned to Brian McClennan to coach their side after his efforts with the New Zealand national side but he failed to duplicate his international success at club level and was replaced before the end of the season by interim coach Tony Iro. They finished the season in lowly 14th with an 8-16 record.

Manly returned to the finals, finishing fourth under new coach Geoff Toovey. They lost to Canterbury to begin the playoffs, bounced back with a win over North Queensland but their title defence ended in the preliminary final at AAMI Park when they were on the wrong end of a 40-12 thumping from eventual premiers Melbourne.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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