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. . . Then There Were Two

James Conway

IT’S finally here – the first Sunday in October, the big dance, the NRL Grand Final.

After 26 Rounds, 192 regular-season games and eight finals showdowns the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles and the Sydney Roosters will battle it out for Rugby League’s highest honour – the NRL premiership.

This will be the 15th Grand Final Stadium Australia has hosted since 1999 and Sunday will be only the fourth time that two Sydney teams have featured.

Here’s how the two sides look ahead of Sunday’s decider.

Who do you think will be crowned premiers in 2013?

Sea Eagles v Roosters – Played 123; Manly 79; Roosters 42; Drawn 2.

Current Sydney Roosters Logo

Finished 1st – Won 18; Lost 6; 40 pts; 315 +/-

Key players: Sonny Bill Williams has wasted no time finding his feet in rugby league after more than four years playing rugby union. The Roosters’ enforcer has been in devastating form of late with a standout performance in their Round 26, Minor Premiership showdown against arch-rivals the Rabbitohs. Defence wins premierships and so far in 2013 there has been none better than the Roosters and none better for the tri-colours than SBW. The halves pairing of Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney will be crucial for the Bondi boys if they are to claim their 13th premiership. The NSW halves pairing will need to build more pressure with their short kicking game than they did during the regular season- ranking last in line dropouts forced. James Maloney is the only player to record 15 line-breaks, line-break assists and try-assists in 2013.

Season highlight: The Round 26 battle for the Minor Premiership against arch-rivals South Sydney which they won 24-12 in front of a record stand-alone regular season crowd of 59,708 at Stadium Australia.

Road to the final: Having claimed the Minor Premiership one week earlier, the Roosters put in one of the most resolute defensive performances in recent memory, desperately holding on to beat Manly 4-0 in the lowest scoring Finals match since St George beat Illawarra by the same margin in 1992. After a week’s rest, the Roosters were clinical in their 40-14 Preliminary Final victory over the in-form side of the last five weeks, the Newcastle Knights. The Roosters are now through to their sixth Grand Final of the century, winning only one of those back in 2002. They have built their title assault on defence – the best defensive season in over 100 years – holding six teams to zero in games this year. With a monster forward pack including Jared Warea-Hargreaves and the NSW Origin halves pairing of Pearce and Maloney, the Roosters have been the competition benchmark in 2013. They’ve beaten the Sea Eagles all three times this year and have held Manly to a total of three tries combined in these encounters. Roosters star Sonny Bill Williams described the brutal Qualifying Final encounter as one of the toughest matches he’d ever played in.With a comparitively inexperienced side, the Roosters will look to stay in the contest early against a Manly side who have been there and done that before. They’re the Minor Premiers, their roster is the envy of most teams in the competition and they have a good balance of experience and youth. They are going to be hard to beat.

Stats that matter:

  • Only once back in 1981 have the Roosters failed to make a Grand Final after winning the Minor Premiership.
  • The Roosters have never beaten a team four times in the one season.
  • The Roosters will be looking to win the Minor Premiership and the major gong for the first time since 1975. Only once before have they defeated the same opponent twice in the same finals campaign – against Glebe way back in 1911.
  • The Roosters have won all three encounters against the Sea Eagles this year with Manly only managing a combined three tries in all encounters.
  • The Roosters are through to their sixth Grand Final at Stadium Australia – the most of any Sydney team and the eqal-most overall (tied with Melbourne).
  • If the Roosters lose against Manly on Sunday night, skipper Anthony Minichiello will become the first player in rugby league history to lose five Grand Finals.
  • 18 times this year the Roosters have held an opponent scoreless during a half, however 12 times has Manly scored 20 or more in a single half.
  • Anthony Minichiello has scored the most Finals tries for the Roosters (13).
  • The current Roosters squad have played in a combined 14 Grand Finals for just two wins (14%).
  • The Roosters have held their opponent to a converted try or less in 31 of the 52 halves they have played so far this season.
  • James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce are the first halves pairing in #NRL history to record 20 try assists in the same season
  • In their Qualifying Final against the Sea Eagles, they broke an all-time rugby league record, keeping their opponents scoreless on six occasions in one season.
  • The Roosters have won 19 of 21 games when leading at half time this season; Manly 14 of 17.
  • The Roosters are the most penalised team this season.
  • Michael Jennings is looking to become only the seventh Rooster to score 20 tries and only the second in their first year at the club (Rod O’Loan 27 in 1935).
  • The Roosters are experiencing their best defensive season since 1982.
  • James Maloney is looking to become just the fourth Rooster to score 250 in a season.
  • The Roosters have conceded the most penalties and dropouts.
  • The Roosters need four more tries to reach 300 scored against Manly.
Manly Logo

Finished 4th – Won 15; Lost 8; Drew 1; 35 pts; 222 +/-

Key Players: Jamie Lyon has again proven himself one of the most potent centres in the game. The man they call ‘Killer’ has 14 tries in 2013, only one off his previous best haul of 15 back in 2001 when he was at Parramatta. While his goal kicking has been a little off this year, his ability to apply pressure with a kick down the short side into the in-goal has been exceptional. Kieran Foran is one of the best at drawing defenders by taking the ball to the line. His aggression in defence provides the impetus for the rest of his teammates and he almost always leads the kick-chase in attack. He has already won a premiership with fellow young-gun Daley Cherry-Evans and Manly will rely on their combination to get through this year’s finals series. The Sea Eagles will be turning to the experience and attacking flair of star fullback Brett Stewart. The 28-year-old dual premiership winner adds invaluable experience and most importantly for Manly, an unrivalled ability to find the try line. His absence was felt when the Eagles failed to cross the line in their 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Roosters in the Week 1 Qualifying Final. While he hasn’t scored as many tries as he usually does this year, the Manly number one has more than made up for it with an impressive tally of try-assists.

Season highlight:
Manly hadn’t tasted victory over a fellow top four side until Round 25 when they comprehensively tore apart arch-rival Melbourne’s defence (28-8) with their most consistent performance of the year to date.

Road to the final: The question for Manly remains ‘do they have enough petrol in the tank after three bruising Finals encounters against the Roosters, Sharks and Rabbitohs’? The Roosters on the other hand enjoyed a week’s rest after their Week 1 Qualifying Final victory over Manly and then a relatively comfortable 40-14 victory over the Knight’s in last Saturday night’s Preliminary Final. Manly threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Roosters’ defence in their 4-0 Qualifying Final loss, but couldn’t find the knockout blow. From one brutal clash to another, the Sea Eagles looked battered and bruised but held on to beat the fast-finishing Cronulla Sharks in their Week 2 Semi-Final. Tough games and a mounting injury toll derailed their season in last year’s Preliminary Final and after trailing the Rabbitohs 14-0 after just 15 minutes in this year’s corresponding fixture, it looked to be a case of history repeating. As they’ve shown so often over the past decade, the Sea Eagles played their best football when their backs were against the wall. 30 unanswered points sunk the Rabbitohs’ hearts and booked Manly a place in their fourth Grand Final in seven years. After a bruising Finals series, the Sea Eagles will rely on their experienced roster – 11 players still remain from the 2011 premiership-winning team. Defence wins premierships and there have been none better in 2013 than the Roosters and the Sea Eagles. If their Week 1 Qualifying Final is anything to go by, this will be one of the toughest, most brutal Grand Finals ever seen. There is no love lost between these two proud Sydney clubs and niether side will leave anything on the field. Manly will be hoping to send departing duo Brent Kite and ‘Gorgeous’ George Rose out winners with Kite joining the Panthers and Rose joining the Storm next season. The Sea Eagles won their first premiership back in 1972, defeating the Roosters 19-14 in the Grand Final. That was the only time these sides have met in a decider and Manly will be full of confidence on Sunday, having lost only twice against the Roosters in Finals matches – one of those was three weeks ago and the other was back in 1975. Manly play their best football when their backs are against the wall and they will be hoping to utilise the ‘us against them’ mentality they pride themselves on.

Stats that matter:

  • Manly have won nine of their last 11 matches at Stadium Australia.
  • The Sea Eagles have only lost two finals matches against the Roosters and one of those was back in 1975.
  • Manly coach Geoff Toovey could become just the second man after Bob Fulton to both captain and coach the club to premiership success.
  • Manly have won 19 of 23 Sunday games over the past three years.
  • At club level Brett Stewart has scored 13 tries in only 15appearances at Stadium Australia (11 victories).
  • Manly are the only team to win premierships in each of the last five decades.
  • Manly require just 6 more for 500 points scored at Stadium Australia (Lyon 106, Brett Stewart 52, Matt Orford 44).
  • The Sea Eagles are the only team in the competition to reach the finals for the last nine years straight – this is the second best streak in the club‘s history.
  • Jorge Taufua and David Williams are poised to become only the fourth Wing pairing in history to both score 20 tries in a season
  • Brett Stewart has scored the most Finals tries in Manly history (14).
  • For the first time in Sea Eagles history, six players will have represented the club in four separate grand finals – Brent Kite, Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai, Anthony Watmough and the Stewart brothers.
  • Manly wingers Jorge Taufua (32) and David Williams (25) lead the competition in line-breaks. Taufua’s tally is the tenth-highest by any player in NRL history.
  • The Sea Eagles have conceded just 28 first half points in seven Grand finals over the past 30 years.
  • Brett Stewart has averaged a try assist with every 29.6 touches which remains the most efficient in the competition.
  • For the first time three players with 250 games experience will appear in the same Grand Final (Kite 287, Minichiello 274, Watmough 265).
  • Manly still have 11 players remaining from their 2011 premiership-winning side.
  • The current Manly squad have played a combined 27 Grand Finals for 20 wins (74%).
  • By themselves, the Manly Sea Eagles’ backline have outscored 10 teams this season (91 tries).
  • Anthony Watmough becomes the 50th most-capped player of all time, making his 265th appearance against the Souths in the Preliminary Final.
  • Manly have scored the most tries after receiving a penalty (27) & forcing dropouts (13).

*Statistics: NRL Stats

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