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Manly's SCG Farewell

[David Middleton (Ed.) Rugby League Yearbook 1987-88. pp. 86-87.]

The last grand final played on the Sydney Cricket Ground, after 76 seasons of tenancy there by the game of Rugby League, was full of free-flowing football and adventurous play. It was played in the hottest conditions ever experienced for a grand final, with the temperature out in the middle estimated at 30-31 degrees.

For winners Manly the sweat was followed by ....the tears. The thoroughly deserved 18-8 victory was an emotional event, largely because it brought, at last, the premiership that the great Bob Fulton had sought as a coach for eight long years.

It was a grand final of master-pupil, with Manly always in control. Manly captain Paul Vautin before the game had talked about the Canberra fairytale — and predicted that the last page would be ripped out. It was.

A class act from kickoff to final hooter Manly fell down in only one area — the effective finishing off of the many raids they began. Because of that Canberra were able to hang on with leech-like tenacity, never looking winners, but always almost in reach. Remarkably Manly scored only two tries in a match in which their dominance was complete. They had four other 'tries' (rightly) disallowed by referee Mick Stone, who made a first class contribution to an impressive match.

Manly scored one try in each half, a meagre return for all the dazzle and apparent supremacy. Cliff Lyons, a popular winner of the Churchill Medal as man of the match, scored the first after 26 minutes of the first half, slipping his rival Chris O'Sullivan, and carrying defenders over with him.

Lyons was absolutely devastating on his feet in the first half, although at times carrying the ball too far.

The second try was a brilliantly crafted effort, scored by Michael O'Connor, created by Dale Shearer. Shearer's cross kick, gathered impeccably by the flying O'Connor was Rugby League of the highest order; The O'Connor conversion from wide out virtually wrapped up the match, at 16-2.

But Canberra had a late thrill left for their army of supporters when Ivan Henjak created space for O'Sullivan, and a Raiders try, with 11 minutes left on the clock. That made it 16-8, and ensured there were some thrills in the last minutes as Canberra pressed for further points.

Manly survived comfortably, and afterwards there were scenes of great emotion as the Sea Eagles celebrated their fifth premiership in 40 years. "I'm ecstatic," coach Fulton told a crowd of 50,201.

The stand-out performance of the last grand final at the Sydney Cricket Ground — apart from Cliff Lyons — came from Manly's rock solid English forward Kevin Ward. Ward, who had arrived only a few days earlier from the gloomy skies of the English north, performed magnificently in the heat, defending stoutly, and taking the ball up with great relish.

O'Sullivan, Jackson, Lance and Walters were big triers for the Raiders who could take enormous pride from their achievements of 1987.

But in 1987, justice was done. Manly were the best team all year. In a grand final heatwave .....they proved it.

Back to 1987 Grand Final Index