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Manly must channel 1933 Bluebags to snare rare slice of history

If Manly are to topple South Sydney this weekend then go on to claim a remarkable premiership, they will have to replicate a stunning feat achieved just once in history – by Newtown in 1933.

Only once in 113 years of premiership history has any side lost their first four games of the season and gone on to take out the title.

And on just one other occasion has a side lost their opening four games and even made that year's decider, and that was even earlier – a feat achieved by St George in 1930.

But if Manly want to channel Newtown's truly unique achievement, they will not be able to rely on the single biggest factor that boosted the Bluebags' hopes that year.

A unique feat

The Newtown squad of 1933 lost games to Souths, Easts, Wests and University to start their campaign but lost just one more game all year, finishing first.

The Jets downed Souths in a semi-final then St George in the final to claim the second of their three premierships.

With just eight teams in the competition playing a two-week, top-four finals series, Newtown's achievement that year is radically different from the task currently facing Manly.

But there's one other significant factor that weighed in Newtown's favour that year – one that Manly will find impossible to replicate.

The 1933-34 Kangaroos tourists set sail for England after round six that year, decimating the Wests and Souths powerhouses that contested the previous seasons grand final.

The 1933 Newtown Bluebags.
The 1933 Newtown Bluebags.

A star-studded Easts side lost four future Hall-of-Famers including future immortal, centre Dave Brown, to the seven-month tour.

The five Magpies on the tour included two future Hall of Fame players in fullback Frank McMillan and five-eighth Vic Hey, along with centre Cliff Pearce, halfback Les Mead and winger Alan Ridley.

All four of the Roosters on the trip are Hall of Fame members; joining Brown were front-rower Ray Stehr, back-rower Joe Pearce and halfback Viv Thicknesse. Souths lost three stars in centre Jack Why, back-rower Frank O'Connor and front-rower Frank Curran.

St George had one tourist in winger Fred Gardner while around half the touring party was made up of players from the Newcastle and Queensland competitions.

In a tragic sidenote to the tour, University centre Ray Morris – set to be the first Kangaroos player from the struggling club after switching from the Magpies a year earlier – died en route to England after he suffered a ruptured eardrum which became infected.

1933 Kangaroo tourists Frank McMillan, Vic Hey and Les Mead.
1933 Kangaroo tourists Frank McMillan, Vic Hey and Les Mead.

Plucky Bluebags make history

The 1933 Newtown side was short on superstars, with only hooker Arthur Folwell (grandfather of legendary Sharks lock Greg Pierce) making the Kangaroos touring party, but it was still a handy side with a few recognisable names.

The premiership team also included Joe Gartner on the wing, a player who began a family dynasty with his sons and grandsons going on to have successful first grade careers.

Joe switched to Canterbury in 1936 and his sons Ray and Jim also played for Canterbury through the 1950s and 1960s; Joe's grandsons Russel (Manly, Easts and Balmain) and Daniel (Manly and Northern Eagles) both also represented Australia.

Winger Garnet Braybrook scored a try in the final; his son Denis became a first grade referee and Denis's son Mark is now a well-known commentator.

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Folwell's back-up at hooker Clarrie Stevenson was good enough to earn a couple of representative jerseys with NSW City Firsts while the Ellis brothers – five-eighth Keith and fullback Tom – each captained Newtown and represented NSW.

After shrugging off their 0-4 start, the Jets won four straight games against the Tigers, Dragons, Bears and Rabbitohs before a loss to Easts that would be the last of their season.

They won five more games on the bounce to finish first before downing Souths 17-12 in the semi-final and St George 18-5 in the final to cap a very unusual NSWRL season.

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The Magpies meanwhile, with five star players on the other side of the world, finished last.

For Manly to do the same as Newtown and go all the way to a title after losing their first four games, they will not have the luxury of the three best sides losing their best players to a Kangaroos tour.

Recent history also against Manly

The other finals statistic weighing heavily against Manly's chances (and Penrith's, for that matter) is the enormous difficulties top-four sides have had qualifying for a grand final in the current system after losing week one of the finals.

Since the finals system was adopted in 2012, replacing the old McIntyre system, top-four sides losing week one have gone out in straight sets on six occasions, while on 10 others they have won their semi-final but lost a preliminary final.

On just two occasions have teams recovered from a week-one loss to feature on the final day of the season; the 2013 Sea Eagles who lost the decider to the Roosters, and the 2015 Cowboys who went on to win the whole thing, edging out a Broncos side that was too good for them just three weeks earlier.

‘Chip on the shoulder’ driving Manly’s redemption

Despite the weight of history against them, the in-form Sea Eagles, powered by superstar fullback Tom Trbojevic, all-international halves pairing of Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans, try-scoring freaks on both wings and a forward pack laden with X-factor and ball-playing ability, are nevertheless a daunting prospect for the Rabbitohs this Friday at Suncorp Stadium.

 

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