Having won their maiden premiership in 1972, Manly became the benchmark and the team to beat in 1973. The relative newcomers to the competition, Cronulla, took up that challenge, literally.
Manly were afforded the first week off in the new finals structure, as they finished the regular season as minor premiers. Cronulla defeated third placed neighbours St.George 18-0 on the first day of the finals, earning them a second chance and a match against Manly.
Newtown defeated Canterbury 13-2 the day after, which saw the Berries drop out of the race.
In the second week of the finals, Manly defeated Cronulla 14-4 to book their spot in the Grand Final and forcing Cronulla into a sudden death match the following week.
St.George and Newtown played out at 12 all draw, which lead to a rematch just two days later, which Newtown won 8-5.
The following week, Cronulla accounted for a weary Newtown side 20-11, to advance to their maiden Grand Final.
Cronulla’s British import and captain-coach turned in one of his best ever performances in the Sharks victory over Newtown the week before, while fellow British import Cliff Watson and fellow forward Ken Maddison had been in dominant form for the entire season.
The side had also unearthed exciting teenage prospects Steve Rogers and Rick Bourke as well as sporting young test player Greg Pierce. They were an experienced, skilful and very talented squad.
Manly were a star studded outfit, containing experienced test players Fred Jones, Bill Bradstreet, Ken Irvine, Englishman Malcolm Reilly, Ray Branighan, Graham Eadie, John O’Neill and the most notable of all, Bob Fulton.
All across the park the Manly side was all class. Their attack was the best in the competition without doubt and their defence was equally impressive.
Monday, September 10 Grand Final week began with Cronulla teenage centre Steve Rogers being cleared to play after succumbing to a suspected broken cheekbone in the previous match against Newtown. He’d spent the night after the game in hospital getting scans and treatment. Rogers was literally worried sick that there would be bad news which would rule him out of the Grand Final. When he received the good news, his captain-coach Tommy Bishop said “He’s much more chirpy now. It’s the best news we could have had today. I can tell you we were all worried.”
While Rogers was convalescing, the Sharks held a light training run in which Warren Fisher was announced to be fit, having overcome a troublesome ankle injury and Greg Allen was over his bout of the flu which had sapped his energy in the match against Newtown. Cliff Watson was still in some small amount of doubt but Bishop was adamant that he’d be fit to play.
Manly, who had the luxury of a week off before the grand final, were all fresh and fully fit, including centre Ray Branighan, who had not played in the finals due to an injury sustained in their last round clash against Balmain. Their only concern lay with John O’Neill who had some slight discomfort in his ankle after training but Manly coach Ron Willey felt confident that he’d be fine come game day.
Willey also stated that he felt Cronulla were disappointing performers in their victory on the weekend against Newtown, paying particular attention to their second half performance, saying “This failure in the second half is a real pattern with Cronulla – I’ve watched their last four games and they appear to lose the scrums in the second half.”
Tuesday, September 11 Cronulla selectors announce that the club doctor has given Cliff Watson the all-clear to play in the grand final. They also reveal that experienced winger Ray Corcoran has been given the all clear to play after he displaced a bone in his foot early in the season which required a pin to be implanted into his instep. The Sharks selectors are looking at dropping Steve Edmonds and Greg Allen from the side that beat Newtown on the weekend.
Wednesday, September 12 Tommy Bishop reveals that a meeting the previous night lead to an agreement between Manly, Cronulla and Grand Final referee Keith Page, whereby both sides would have a 45 minute meeting on game day prior to kick off with Page to discuss issues in scrums. Cronulla held a rigorous 90 minute training session the previous night, later stating that no injury concerns were evident at the club. Manly coach Ron Willey held a shortened training session, saying he was happy with what he saw from his chargers. John O’Neill still carrying an injury to his ankle will take a pain killing injection before kick-off. Ray Branighan looked very fit and is expected to play for the first time in 34 days in the Grand Final.
Thursday, September 13 Both teams run light training sessions and officially declare all players will be fit and available for selection.
Friday, September 14 Tommy Bishop reveals that he had a pep talk with his players at training the previous night and spoke about the importance of having a killer instinct and playing for the full eighty minutes. Cliff Watson’s back injury had officially been declared fully healed. Willey held another light training session after which he said of Cronulla “I really can’t see them beating us. Certainly they deserve to be in the grand final because they are a good team and well coached. But they are not yet up to the standard of the Manly side.”
Saturday, September 15 Game day. The NSWRL reveals that a television audience of more than 2 million will tune in to watch the Grand Final, with the game being telecast live by ABC to all states bar Western Australia and Northern Territory. The game will also mark an end to the stellar career of Ken Irvine.
54,022 packed into the SCG, some of whom had spent the night sleeping outside the ground. The players ran out onto the field where they were forced to wait in the cold wind while longer than anticipated pre-match presentations took place. Former test player Ferris Ashton believed that this extended build up, which lasted an extra 20 minutes, may have contributed to what happened after kick-off. Cliff Watson was looking more fired up than usual and the long wait only served to intensify his eagerness and aggression.
From the outset, the game was played in the middle and a fierce battle was fought between both teams forward packs.
On the third tackle of Manly’s first set, John O’Neill charged into the Cronulla defence and was met by Maddison, Bowen and Wellman. While they grappled with the Manly forward, Maddison took a swing at O’Neill’s head while Bowen whacked his arm into his still mildly injured back. O’Neill got some revenge shortly after when he hit Wellman late after the play-the ball, leading to the first of many heated exchanges in the game.
On the next tackle, Manly lock Mal Reilly injured his hip when Ron Turner stuck his leg out in attempt to charge down Reilly’s kick. Turners boot caught Reilly in his side. Reilly hobbled off the field 6 minutes later and the medics treated him for a bruised kidney injury, before giving him three pain killing injections. Reilly hobbled back onto the field, but he had minimal involvement and had to come off due to the severe pain with 15 minutes remaining in the half. John Bucknall, who had just played in Manly’s Reserve Grade grand final winning side, came on as Reilly’s replacement.
Play continued and Cliff Watson was tackled by Terry Randall and Peter Peters. After the tackle was completed, Tommy Bishop took a jab at Peters, who showed no interest. The next tackle saw Maddison hit the ball up only to be grassed by another great strong tackle by Peters. Bishop then started swinging at Randall which led to a fight before both players were singled out by referee Page.
Bishop’s incessant pestering of Randall eventually lead to Randall chasing Bishop, who ran behind his own forwards for protection while Randall chased him around the field, almost oblivious to the game taking place. At one point, the touch judge ran onto the field and a penalty was to be given, while the officials discussed the matter, Bishop and Randall, standing near the referee started another scuffle.
Opposing big men John O’Neill and Cliff Watson had a number of heavy clashes which soon lead to the pair trading blows.
There were some great tackles made which also lead to scuffles and brawls. Martin pulled off an impressive hit on the much bigger Watson; Fulton picked up and dumped Maddison and Pierce’s lifting and driving tackle on Hamilton.
Other incidents took place in back play, stomping on hands, king hits, punches, stiff arms, kneeing and elbowing. Both sides were giving as good as they got. The traditional ‘softening-up’ period had gone on for just over 20 minutes before skilful football started being displayed. Bishop was in fine form in attack, darting around, making half breaks and putting team mates into half gaps, but for every opportunity he created, Manly’s Ian Martin was equal to the task in defence.
The first involvement in the game by Fulton saw him drift across field, draw a defender and then he threw a cut out pass to Irvine that put the winger in open space. As Irvine darted for the try line he was brought down just shy by Fisher.
As Cronulla were bringing the ball out of their half, Watson was met in a heavy tackle and while he was on his knees, he was bent back and his face raked by O’Neill. Watson lost the ball and Manly capitalised, sending a short pass to Randall who was met with a blatant swinging arm to the head by Bishop.
Fulton threw a cut out pass to Irvine that put the winger in open space. As he darted for the try line he was brought down just shy by Fisher. Soon after Fisher himself was in space but was brought down by Eadie and a certain try went begging.
28 minutes into the game, Manly were on the attack 30 metres out from Cronulla’s try line, when Fred Jones threw a flick pass back on the inside to Fulton who burst through a gap, running around defenders with sheer acceleration to score. Eadie converted and Manly lead 5-0.
In the following set after play restarted, Fulton was about to be penalised by Page for back chatting, before nearby players alerted the referee to a large brawl that was well underway at the other end of the field. All hell broke loose with fights and scuffles all over the ground. Page eventually halted the violence, called all 26 players together for the second time in the match and gave them all a warning.
Just as the half was coming to a close, Manly were awarded a penalty and they opted to take a shot at goal. Eadie’s attempt sailed wide, but after Fisher caught the ball, he lost it as he began running upfield.
At halftime Fisher was helped off the field by Bishop and was replaced after it was found he had broken his rib and it had pierced his lung. Fisher was immediately taken to hospital.
Rick Bourke replaced the hospitalised Fisher and in the second half he and Bishop formed a solid combination, which saw the Cronulla attack start to show its effectiveness. A scrum penalty against Mayes gave Cronulla their first points of the game when Rogers kicked the goal to make the score 5-2.
Manly quickly went on the attack when Branighan put Eadie into space. As Eadie ran downfield he had Fulton on his outside, but he threw a cut out pass to Irvine which went to ground and Fulton put his hands on his head rueing a lost opportunity.
In the 58th minute, Martin put Eadie into open space again. He threw a two handed lobbed pass over the top of the outstretched arms of the Cronulla defence, which was collected by Fulton who ran 20 metres around Bourke and down the sideline, before colliding with Rogers’ cover tackle but still managing to score in the corner. Eadie’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful and Manly lead 8-2 with just 20 minutes remaining.
Cronulla hit back in the 71st minute when Maguire was 10 metres from the Manly try line, gave a deft short pass to a flying Bourke, who hit a small gap at speed and dived off over for a try near the posts. Rogers slotted the goal to cut Manly’s lead to just one point with 17 minutes left.
Both sides battled hard for field position, neither side giving an inch. But with 3 minutes left, Cronulla were penalised after a scrum collapse and Eadie kicked an easy penalty goal to make the score 10-7 to Manly.
Bishop ran a planned play with Maddison in a last ditch attempt to score a try, but the pass went to ground and was dived on by Branighan. As the dejected Bishop turned to run back onside, he was given a slap on the back by Fulton signifying that the game was over. Manly winning their second title 10-7.
After the match, Bishop stated “That Fulton – he was great. He was the difference. I thought we were the better team in overall play but Fulton was just too classy.”
Manly captain Fred Jones said of the game “That’s the toughest match I’ve ever played in.”
1 – Graham Eadie
2 – Ken Irvine
3 – Ray Branighan
4 – Bob Fulton
5 – Max Brown
6 – Ian Martin
7 – Johnny Mayes
13 – Bill Hamilton
12 – Fred Jones
11 – John O’Neill
10 – Peter Peters
9 – Terry Randall
8 – Malcolm Reilly
14 – John Bucknall (replaced Reilly)
1 – Warren Fisher
2 – Ray Corcoran
3 – Steve Rogers
4 – Eric Archer
5 – Bob Wear
6 – Chris Wellman
7 – Tommy Bishop
13 – Cliff Watson
12 – Ron Turner
11 – Grahame Bowen
10 – Ken Maddison
9 – John Maguire
8 – Greg Pierce
19 – Rick Bourke (replaced Fisher)
Referee: Keith Page
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground
Date: Saturday, September 15, 1973
Manly 10 (Fulton 2 tries, Eadie 2 goals from 6 attempts)
Cronulla 7 (Bourke try, Rogers 2 goals from 5 attempts)
****This article appeared on www.steelesports.com website****