The last time Manly played Souths at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Brett Stewart was six months old and Greg Inglis was not yet born. Fast-forward 29 years and they are among the finest fullbacks in the world, yet vastly different players. The 105kg Inglis is a fleet-footed wrecking ball, while the comparatively diminutive 92kg Stewart has developed into a key playmaker on the peninsula.
Amazingly, he is third for try assists (18), behind Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston (both 22). The only other fullback in the top ten is Michael Morgan, demonstrating that Manly’s attack is anything but formulaic.
He is also second for line-break assists (13), one behind Matt Moylan. This category is similarly dominated by halves, showing Stewart’s intelligence and skill to execute multiple roles.
At the SCG, both have enjoyed NRL success. Inglis scored a try in his side’s 26-6 defeat of the Dragons earlier this season, while Stewart’s sole game against the Eels in 2006 also returned him a try in a pulsating 23-22 win.
But Inglis is one up on his opponent when it comes to classic SCG moments. Who could forget his leaping bat back for Mark Gasnier from beyond the dead ball line in the Centenary Test? It is one of the most memorable plays in rugby league history, and while it is unlikely he will replicate the act, Manly must beware Inglis’ knack for conjuring the seemingly impossible.
Stewart added to his own impressive highlight reel with an obligatory Brookvale special against Brisbane last Friday. Despite two knee reconstructions, he blitzed the visitors as he scored beside the posts in the closing minutes. Interestingly, all but one of his seven tries in 2014 have come after half-time.
Despite debuting two years apart, just one appearance separates the duo, with Inglis posting 118 tries in 192 matches (61.5% strikerate) and Stewart scoring 142 in 193 games (73.6%). Against South Sydney, this increases to 106%, with 18 tries in 17 appearances. In fact, the 29-year-old has scored more tries against the Rabbitohs than any other opponent, proof that containing Stewart may be their toughest assignment.
There are so many reasons to head out to Friday’s blockbuster. It’s first versus second on the ladder, it’s at the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground, and it’s Manly-Warringah up against old foes South Sydney. But more than anything it’s a chance to see two of the modern day greats test brains and brawn once again.