Sorry Bunnies fan.
More than most, I know the heart ache that a loss at this time of year brings.
Sorry, also, because it was there to be won after that great start. At 14 nil early on all looked as if it was going to plan. Physical dominance was theirs!
The exposure of that Eagles dodgey right side defence with an exquisitely executed out-the-back play for Inglis to catch and pass so fluently showed what those red and greens could do – what they had done so many times over and over to light the scoreboard up. And then that soft try by John Sutton suggested Manly’s recent tough matches might have finally caught up. Direct, muscle, dominance, Souths were in control.
But those signs were all misleading. The plan was a big part of the problem.
Souths have out-muscled many of their opponents on the way to second spot after 24 matches. But this Manly crew was not going to fold physically – nor mentally.
Falling behind by so much so early had an upside. It forced them to start playing their best footy on both sides of the ball because they had to. To concede another first half try would have really lifted Souths. But the Eagles needed to get some points at the same time.
Those two facets are well within their capabilities because that’s their overall style of play. They have a very tough physical team who are seasoned for 80 minute combat style footy. But more than that they are willing to challenge every member of the opposition when they have the ball rather than concern themselves too much with possession and position.
Souths on the other hand have a much narrower focus as their method.
Attrition is a large part of the plan; breaking down the opponents defence by destroying their A defenders with relentless bulldozing runs by a battalion of big boppers is straight out of the Storm playbook – Coach Maguire’s early coaching experience. He perfected that plan as head coach at Wigan and transported it to Redfern with strong belief and discipline underpinning it all. The clubs general growth in those areas is obvious.
Not so obvious, is the limitation it has when the opposition stands up to physical aspects and comes back with more decision based situations for the Rabbits to deal with. Manly certainly provided that especially using their right side stars in attack.
A creative left footed grubber kick by a right second rower for the opening try when down 14 nil is not something you will ever read in a Rabbits match report but the Stewart brothers made it look easy. And then they just kept firing big questions at that left side D.
It was a not a year six spelling test but a full blown challenge using dynamite execution of tremendous rugby league attack variations. To stop it required all components of Souths defence to read and communicate very well and many occasions. It failed the test.
Manly execute all these variations so well because they have some very special players – DCE (outstanding again), Stewarts x 2, Jamie Lyon and David Williams. They also dare to play that way at any and every time they feel “it’s on” all season long season on season.
Less limitations in their plan allowed them to feel the confidence to go for it even when 14 behind.
On the other hand, once Manly reversed the scoreboard positions Souths looked very uncomfortable in creating situations that led to points without gaining physical dominance first.
Surely a grand final team should have that ability in its arsenal; something more than muscle. A broader skill base across more players, a greater awareness of creative combinations and a strong development of decision making by all players leads to the confidence needed to get it back again under pressure of the clock, scoreboard and champion quality opposition.
Meanwhile Manly continued to ask some questions of Souths D but “pulled their heads in” a little to reduce any chance of errors undoing all that great work. Just like a smart footy team should.
Manly march into a FOURTH GRAND FINAL in seven seasons. Wow! They deserve it and have earned it.
Souths? There are some very big decisions to be made there by the head coach and his advisors before pre-season training begins for 2014 in my opinion. The original plan has helped them achieve lofty ladder positions but can it get them the bigger prizes by going back to the same method but do it even better.
Or do they add some “footy spice”?
The Eagles showed them how it works with one of the most inspiring performances in footy’s great finals folklore.