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At last Fulton gets top honour
[Extracted from Whiticker 1994, pp 187-190.]


"Manly-Warringah's fifth premiership title proved to be the crowning achievement in the career of Bob Fulton. Capping two decades of involvement in the code at the highest level, Fulton garnered the honour which had eluded him in a nine year coaching career when Manly won the 1987 grand final against Canberra, 18-8.

Manly dominated the 1987 season with a 12 match winning sequence between May and July. With the failure of 1980s perennial grand finalists Parramatta and Canterbury to qualify for the final five, the premiership desperately called out for an underdog. Manly's win over the gallant Raiders provided fans with the most interesting conclusion to the League season for many years.

The roots to Manly's first premiership in almost a decade can be traced back to the club's loss to Parramatta in the 1983 grand final. Bob Fulton returned to the club that year after six seasons at Easts and he can take much of the credit for pursuing those players he needed to win the premiership.

Crusher with sons Gareth and Kane

The sole survivors of the 18-6 loss to Parramatta in 1983 were Noel Cleal and club captain, Paul Vautin. Cleal had developed into one of the most menancing forwards in the game and although Vautin had been largely overlooked by the Australian selectors, his leadership of the Sea Eagles was an integral factor in the club's success.

Rambo and Napper
In 1984, a young schoolteacher who had spent several seasons warming the bench at Penrith trialled with the club. Halfback Des Hasler, whom Fulton regards as one of the most dedicated players he has ever coached, became a mainstay of the Manly side and achieved Test selection the following year. The Manly coach also gained the services of two former "bad boys" in the code - Cliff Lyons and Ron Gibbs. Lyons gave away cheap shots to concentrate on class football, while the transformation of former Easts' forward Ron Gibbs was similarly a "Jeckyll and Hyde" affair.

A further asset to the side was winger-turned-hooker, Mal Cochrane. The 1986 Rothmans medallist was a reliable goalkicker as well as being a deceptive runner in the open.

Prop, Phil Daley had greatly benefited from his experience of the 1986 Kangaroo tour and while the cynics may say that no Manly side would be complete without an English import, Castleford prop Kevin Ward more than justified his place in the side. The club's decision to fly Ward back out to Australia specifically for the grand final paid dividends when the rugged forward produced a tireless display in hot conditions.

Undoubtedly, Manly's masterstroke was the signing of former Rugby Union international Michael O' Connor from St George. Regarded as one of the most gifted attacking backs in the game, O'Connor proved to be a sensation on the 1986 Kangaroo tour and returned to provide a much needed spark to the Sea Eagle backline.

Kevin Ward on the burst

Des Hasler and Phil Daley

Spearheaded by halves Lyons and Hasler, the backs contained abundant pace through fullback Dale Shearer (yet another member of the unbeaten 1986 Kangaroos), New Zealander Darryl Williams and club wingers. Stuart Davis and David Ronson.

With Manly's reserve grade side also represented on grand final day, Bob Fulton was faced with the problem of using fresh reserves. After consulting reserve grade coach Alan Thompson, Fulton made the professional decision to rest halfback Paul Shaw and prop Mark Pocock for the first grade bench. While this may have cost the club the reserve grade premiership (Manly lost 11-0 to Penrith), the decision was ultimately justified by the injuries the first grade squad was to suffer during the match.

On Sunday, September 27, 50,201 fans were on hand to watch the last Rugby League match played at the SCG. Network 10 televised a memorable pre-match entertainment involving a symbolic building of a huge model of the Sydney Harbour Bridge by representatives of the Navy' s apprentices.

Early in the match, Manly attempted to exploit the gaps out wide which had been evident in Canbera's defences during the semi-finals. Cliff Lyons skirted wide to link up with his outside backs and an astute kicking game kept the Raiders hemmed in on their own side of half-way. Lyons stepped inside the Raiders' defence and found Noel Cleal stampeding on to the ball but Ceal's final pass to Des Hasler was ruled forward.

Another Manly raid broke down when Lyons' pass to O'Connor was put to ground but it was to be a case of third time lucky for the live-wire pivot. Scurrying from a scrum win on the Canberra quarter-line, Lyons brushed off the tackle of Chris O 'Sullivan and stepped inside Gary Belcher to score. The Sea Eagles led 6-0 at half-time and it was only a crushing ball-and-all tackle by Belcher on Dale Shearer on the Canberra tryline which stopped the lead from being greater.

Mathematically, Canberra was still in the match but hope faded straight after the resumption of play. Belcher fielded the ball from the kick-off in his in-goal but was penalised for shepherding behind Chris O'Sullivan as he ran the ball out from under his posts. It was a gift penalty goal for Michael O'Connor to take Manly to an 8-0 lead. The Sea Eagles kept the pressure on Canberra by charging down two attempted clearing kicks by a tiring Mal Meninga. Only occasionally did the Raiders break through. After a run by Rod Jackson, Manly's Phil Daley was penalised for a high tackle and Meninga's goal finally put Canberra on the scoreboard.

Manly were experiencing injury problems and with Gibbs, Cleal and Cochrane going down hurt at different stages, the pace of the match slowed. O'Connor landed another penalty goal and when Meninga was replaced after 15 minutes of the second half, the lap of honour seemed only a formality for the minor premiers. Two minutes later, Shearer's crossfield kick was grounded over the line by O'Connor in the Paddington corner of the ground. The Manly centre seemed to have been in front of Shearer's kick but the converted try cemented Manly's lead, 16-2.

It took a clever try by Canberra in the 70th minute to ram home the fact that the Sea Eagles still had a game to win. Chris O'Sullivan went down "injured" after being tackled and then miraculously popped up in the next passage of play to take the inside pass from Ivan Henjack and score. It was an ingeniously constructed "trojan horse" move, which Gary Belcher converted to narrow the scores to 16-8.

Ron Gibbs' return from the head-bin helped snap the Sea Eagles out of their complacency. Daley's tackle on Canberra replacement Terry Regan and Dale Shearer's try-saving tackle on Ashley Gilbert three minutes from full-time ended any chance of a Canberra fightback. Paul Vautin led the charge back up-field with Hasler being bundled into the corner post after a run-around movement with O'Connor.

Right on full-time, O'Connor landed his fifth goal after the Raiders were penalised in front of their own posts. It was a basic error from Canberra, off-side in a tap kick to restart play, but it summed up the lack of experience in the side. The 18-8 scoreline was a fair indication of Manly's supremacy on the day and a just result when considering that the Sea Eagles were by far the most consistent side during the year.

Ronny Gibbs on the fly

Cliff Lyons was awarded the "Clive Churchill Medal" after a busy and constructive display. In October, Manly travelled half-way round the world to take part in the first Club Challenge on English soil. The Sydney premiers, facing an almost impossible hurdle to back-up after the end of the Australian season, were beaten in a tryless match by English champions Wigan, 8-2."

27 September 1987

Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground.
Crowd: 50,201.

Dale Shearer, David Ronson, Darrell Williams, Michael O'Connor, Stuart Davis, Cliff Lyons, Des Hasler, Paul Vautin (c), Noel Cleal, Ron Gibbs, Kevin Ward, Mal Cochrane, Phil Daley.

Replacements: Mark Pocock for Noel Cleal; Paul Shaw for head bin (twice for Ron Gibbs).

Coach: Bob Fulton.

Manly Sea Eagles - 18 (O'Connor, Lyons tries; O'Connor 5 goals) defeated
Canberra Raiders - 8 (O'Sullivan try; Meninga, Belcher goals).  

Referee: Mick Stone.

Clive Churchill Medal Winner: Cliff Lyons.

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