Manly believers embrace grand final bid - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Manly believers embrace grand final bid

By Todd Balym 02/10/2008 04:21:05 PM Comments (0)

There can be few more motivating opportunities in sport than the chance to reverse a grand final defeat.

Especially when the defeat was a thumping.

Manly get that on Sunday when they face premiers Melbourne in a repeat of the 2007 NRL grand final at ANZ Stadium.

As it was 12 months ago, the two clubs have dominated the NRL season to set up a predictable decider.

What isn't predicted is a repeat of the 34-8 mauling the Storm dished out last year.

Manly were simply outclassed by a red-hot Storm outfit that night but, even though the Sea Eagles have bitter memories of the flogging, they are publicly playing down the redemption angle.

"I'm not really going out for revenge. We just have to go out and play the best we can and hopefully come away with the win," says centre Steve Matai.

"We only played 10 or 15 minutes and we just kind of sat back and I think the occasion got to us."

One Sea Eagle who struggled that night was star back-rower Anthony Watmough.

He produced the worst performance of his career, with an appalling 15 missed tackles, and it cost him a Test jumper.

"I don't think I will look back on it at all. That game is totally erased and the good thing about footy is you get another shot at it," says Watmough, wary of the Storm's strikepower across the park.

"It is a bit scary in a way (to play Melbourne again).

"We cannot give them ball as we did last time and expect to get away with it."

The Storm won both contests between the clubs this year and Manly haven't beaten Melbourne since a one point win in round 11 last year.

But some Manly players are willing to welcome the chance to lock horns with the Storm again.

Melbourne's upset loss to the New Zealand Warriors in the qualifying final raised fears the Storm would fail to reach the decider as they were given a dangerous semi-final task in Brisbane.

They beat the Broncos in the final two minutes before easily disposing of Cronulla last week to qualify for their third successive grand final.

Manly prop Brent Kite, for one, is glad the Storm are there.

"I think we need to beat them to prove that - if we are to go on and win - that we were the best side this year," says Kite.

"It would have been a bit hollow to walk away with the premiership not having put that demon to rest."

Manly's chief attacking weapon, fullback Brett Stewart, has the biggest demon to overcome.

He was knocked out shortly after halftime in last year's grand final by a heavy shoulder charge from Michael Crocker as he caught a towering bomb.

Even though Melbourne led 10-4 at the time, it was probably the decisive moment of the match.

"It didn't really bother us who we were going to play but for each of us that was there last year I think there is a bit of fire within," says Stewart.

"My first goal will be to last 80 minutes. (The incident) is forgotten about, there's nothing I can do now.

"If they put another bomb up so be it. I will be under it just like I was last year."

Manly loom as far more formidable and dangerous opponents this year and will start favourites as the Storm go in without suspended captain Cameron Smith and injured Test forward Ryan Hoffman.

Their absence is a big blow to the Storm, who lost 2007 premiership players Matt King, Clint Newton and Ben Cross in the off-season with no major recruits coming in.

The loss of those players hasn't affected Melbourne's form or style of play in 2008.

They're still the defensive masters of the NRL, conceding the fewest points, line breaks and missed tackles of any team, while also scoring freely in attack.

But Manly have taken the mantle as the NRL's top attacking team from the Storm this season.

They lead the way in points scored, averaging more than five tries per game.

A lot of their success comes down to a willing and mobile forward pack bolstered this year by 2001 premiership-winning prop Josh Perry.

They are a tough and unrelenting side and it is their added maturity and patience that has the players confident of premiership success.

"I think we're going better as a team this year," says lock Glenn Stewart.

"We are managing to keep the pressure on sides whereas last year we were guilty of letting it off."

Skipper Matt Orford believes they learnt a lot from the grand final loss to Melbourne when they matched them early but fell away.

"It was a hard lesson to learn last year but a priceless one, I guess," says Orford.

"We just have to stay focussed ... there is a really good feeling around the place and we just need to carry that through."

The problem facing Manly, however, is that 54 years of rugby league grand final history shows that gaining the sweetest revenge on your grand final conqueror is rarely achieved.

In the six previous grand final repeats, including St George's 1960s hat-trick of victories over Western Suburbs, only once have the runners-up managed to triumph the following year.

Souths (v Newtown, 1954-55), St George (v Wests, 1961-63), Parramatta (v Manly, 1982-83) and Brisbane (St George, 1992-93) all won back-to-back premierships over the same clubs, while Penrith's 1991 team managed to reverse their 1990 defeat by Canberra.

Manly prop Jason King believes the Sea Eagles' 2008 team are ready and capable of taking the title after last year's disappointment.

"We want to go to that next level," says King.

"Last year was a bit of, not so much novelty, but that was a great thing just to make the grand final.

"We know amongst the team we are good enough to win the competition."

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