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1972 grand final rewind: Sixth time lucky for drought-breaking Sea Eagles

As part of a series of fresh looks at the grand finals of yesteryear, we revisit the 1972 decider which matched two teams staking their claim to succeed South Sydney as the competition's top dogs - foundation club the Eastern Suburbs Roosters and perennial bridesmaids the Manly Sea Eagles.

NRL.com has gone into the vault to find footage of the grand finals from the pre-NRL era dating back to 1966 and will be showcasing these games, including a full replay, match highlights and great moments from these memorable encounters.

Both sides had droughts to break.

Manly were going into their sixth decider after 25 years in the competition with an 0-5 record, having lost to the mighty Rabbitohs just two years before, while the Roosters may have had nine premierships on their honour roll but hadn't lifted the trophy for 35 years.

The teams finished the regular season ranked 1-2, picking up a win apiece in their head-to-head clashes, before Manly romped home in the major semi-final 32-8 with Bob Fulton bagging a double and Ray Branighan kicking six goals.

Both Manly and Easts had boosted their stocks by raiding South Sydney's roster in the preceding off-season - the Sea Eagles adding Branighan and Test prop John O'Neill while the Roosters lured across Australian lock Ron Coote.

Fred Jones scores during the 1972 grand final

The Sea Eagles went into the game as favourites but the Roosters gave them everything they could handle and jumped out to a 4-0 lead before Manly claimed the lead via four Branighan penalty goals.

It may have taken well into the second half for the first try but that didn't mean the attack from either side was lacking. Fulton, Graham Eadie and Dennis Ward all produced slashing runs for Manly while Coote, Kevin Junee and Mark Harris did the same for the Roosters. 

The villain of the day, at least as far as Roosters fans were concerned, was referee Keith Page, who disallowed tries to lock John Armstrong (double movement) and Coote (dropped ball) while awarding four-pointers to Sea Eagles skipper Fred Jones (disputed put-down) and Branighan (alleged forward pass in lead-up).

Play of the day

Manly had the game wrapped up and the clock was ticking off the final seconds when the Roosters, trailing 19-9, charged at the Manly defence one more time. Future league boss John Quayle, playing in the Roosters second row, ran on to the ball then lobbed a poor pass to Arthur Beetson.

The rugby league Immortal, in an inspired display of the creativity he was renowned for, fielded the ball as it was about to hit the ground and sent it back between his legs like an NFL centre to Bill Mullins.

The big winger grabbed it on the half-volley 25 out and charged over under the posts.

Best player

Sea Eagles halfback Dennis Ward was named man of the match but it's hard to go past English lock Mal Reilly as the best on ground.

A forward with a ferocious reputation, Reilly added a sweet suite of attacking skills to his devastating defence and the full package was on display in the '72 decider. Reilly put up a towering long-range bomb that Roosters fullback Allan McKean dropped into the arms of hard-charging winger Ken Irvine who was pulled down just short of the line.

Reilly popped up in dummy-half and threw the pass that saw skipper Fred Jones go over next to the posts for the first try and a 13-4 lead.

Extended Highlights: Sea Eagles v Roosters

The quote

"I think the secret of Manly-Warringah's success is the harmonious association between officials and players. There is no complaining behind the scenes. The players' representatives take any grievances straight to the club where they are sorted out." - Bob Fulton talking to Rugby League Week before a ball had been kicked in the 1972 season. Prophetic words indeed.

The what-if moment

Gun lock Ron Coote looked to have claimed the first try of the contest, with Eastern Suburbs behind 8-4 after taking an early 4-0 lead, when he went over in the corner after yet another slick Roosters attacking raid.

Easts skipper Coote dived for the line as opposite number Mal Reilly cut him down with an ankles tackle but referee Keith Page ruled the Test lock had bounced the ball.

Unsung hero

Goal-kicking was a problem for Manly who used seven different kickers during the season. Centre Ray Branighan shouldered the responsibility for the decider and potted six from seven as well as adding the match-sealing try off a Bill Hamilton break.

The sides scored two tries apiece so Branighan's out-dueling the 1972 season's top point-scorer, Allan McKean (four from six), went a long way towards securing that elusive victory.

Full Match Replay: Sea Eagles v Roosters - Grand Final, 1972

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The following year

The drought-breakers went back-to-back as Manly again claimed the minor premiership and the silverware, beating second-placed Cronulla 10-7 in the 1973 grand final. The Sea Eagles improved their attack (500 points) and defence (226) to finish with a points difference of +274 but actually lost one more game than they had in 1972. 

Easts suffered a momentary slump, falling from second place in 1972 to sixth and out of the finals the following season with their loss tally ballooning from four to 10. But it was just a blip on their upward trajectory, with the Roosters roaring back to claim the minor premiership and premiership in 1974 and 1975.