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1951 - First Time Grand Finalists

Despite an injured foot caused by a training mishap, captain coach Wally O'Connell returned to the playing field in the opening round match against the powerful St George side at Kogarah Oval. Wearing new striped jerseys, Manly got off to a slow start and were down 2-11 at half time before storming home in the second half for a stirring 18-13 win. In round 2 against Balmain at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Manly was again behind at half-time, this time 2-10, but again stormed home for a 19-15 victory. It was Manly's first victory at the Sydney Cricket Ground, winning all three grades against the 1950 club champions. Suddenly the "ugly ducklings" of rugby league were being hailed as genuine premership contenders. In round 3, Manly led 12-2 against Canterbury before going down 15-26, with Ron Willey kicking 7 goals for the Berries.


Coach Wally O'Connell with players Kevin Schubert, Gordon Willougby, Roy Bull, Jack Lumsden and Jack Hubbard. [Smith 1991, p. 41.]

Round 4 was against premiers South Sydney at a Brookvale Oval bursting at the seams with a record crowd of 9,447. Eight minutes into the second half, Manly led 15-8, but a glut of possession to Souths for the rest of the match saw Souths go on to win 21-17. A horrific injury toll was taking its effect and Manly went into the round 5 match against Parramatta without Wally O'Connell, Kevin Schubert, Perce Pritchard, Ron Rowles, Warren Simmons, and George Hunter and lost the match 15-27. Sandy Herbert and Jack Hubbard were added to the injury list for the crunch match against Wests at Pratten Park but Wally O'Connell was back. After trailling 7-10 at half time, Manly cut Wests to pieces in the second half for a shock 28-13 win, the Sea Eagle first ever win over the Magpies. In round 7 Manly thrashed the struggling Norths 36-10, but then had a shock 14-16 loss to lowly Newtown in a mistake ridden match at Erskineville Oval.


Roy Bull puts Sandy Herbert through against South Sydney. [Smith 1991 p. 44.]

In round 9 Manly thrashed Easts 29-2 but then did not adjust to the wet conditions in going down to St George 2-15 at the SCG. A 13-3 win over Canterbury moved Manly into equal fourth place and were making a serious challenge for a semi final berth. In round 13 Manly faced the might of South Sydney. Manly were considered unlucky to lose when Souths scored a late try against the run of play to win 16-12. Manly won the postponed round 11 match against Balmain 33-5 and then thrashed Parramatta 57-10. In the round 15 crunch match against Wests at the SCG Manly were again unlucky playing a man short and scoring 5 tries to 3 but going down 23-27 thanks to 9 goals kicked by Magpie fullback Don Worne. Manly hit back with big wins in the last three rounds beating Norths 22-11, Newtown 38-12 and Easts 33-12 and snaring second place on the table.


Gordon Willougby on the burst against Easts. [Smith 1991 p. 47.]

Manly met their nemesis Wests in the semi final and after leading 11-6 at half time the Sea Eagles slaughtered the Magpies in the second half to record a magnificent 37-9 win to qualify for the preliminary final against St George.

The Dragons had thrashed premiers Souths 35-8 in their semi final and were super confident going into the final against Manly. Saints captain Johnny Hawkes boasted that "my team is in unbeatable form, we will crush Manly as we did South Sydney in the semi-final". [Smith 1991, p. 50.] The final turned out to be the glorious day in the young club's history with Manly winning 18-8 to qualify for the Grand Final against Souths. In the words of Jim Mathers "The young bloods of Manly-Warringah, with never a sign of wilting, maintained their smashing attack right to the final bell. In the last 15 minutes the boys from the seaside village simply swept through in wave after wave of enthusiastic passing." [Smith 1991, p. 50-51.]

But the dream of a first premiership was not to be with Souths posting a record 42-14 win over Manly in the Grand final.


Ken Arthurson scores a vital try against St George in the preliminary final.

Nevertheless 1951 was a coming of age for Manly as premiership contenders and grand finalists for the first time. A future premiership now seemed inevitable.

1951 Results
1951 Players
1951 Grand Final

Main source: Smith 1991.