Young gun...Manly full-back Albert Hopoate is the leading tryscorer in the Harold Matthews competition. Photo: Bryden Sharp.
The 2017 Sea Eagles Harold Matthews team will achieve a special place in the Manly history books on Saturday, irrespective of the Grand Final result.
Coached by Brett Fulton, this Sea Eagles team have the honour of being the first club side to contest a Harold Matthews Grand Final since the competition began in 1970.
The Sea Eagles finished the regular season in fifth place with six wins from eight games before producing three quality victories in the finals series to earn a place in the season decider against Newcastle.
The Knights will start firm favourites at Leichhardt Oval and the expectations of victory will be enormous after reaching the grand final as undefeated minor premiers.
Furthermore, the Knights have won the Harold Matthews competitions in 1992, 2000, and 2014, and were runners-up in 1996, 2012 and 2016.
However, Newcastle will face a tremendous well-balanced Sea Eagles side who, over the past six weeks, have really hit their strides by playing a more unstructured brand of football after previously playing more of a middle game.
With the shackles taken off, the Sea Eagles have the players who can score tries from anywhere on the back of a hard working pack led by captain Joshua Schuster.
Fulton said a lot of the team’s success can be contributed to great harmony.
“They just get on really well. Even though there are some good individual players, they all play as a team which is what you try and achieve as a coach,’’ Fulton said.
“The boys want to play for each other. You can see that and you can feel their passion.”
The Sea Eagles boast the competition’s leading try scorer in outstanding full-back Albert Hopoate, who has crossed for 15 tries. His opposite on Saturday, Bradman Best, has scored 11 tries for Newcastle – four of those came in the win over Manly in round four.
“Albert has been really good. He missed three games through injury, so to finish as the leading try scorer is an incredible achievement,’’ Fulton said.
“Some of the boys put him in good situations to score those tries, but he has certainly scored some crazy tries himself from all over the park.
“He is a quality full-back, as is the Newcastle full-back Bradman Best. He is a very good player Bradman, and his father, Roger, played for Manly.
“Bradman is quick, skilful, and backs up really well.
“Albert and Bradman are very similar players in that they can break tackles and they run the ball exceptionally well.
“Newcastle will be very hard to beat and deserve to be favourites. They have got a well-structured game, so we will have to be on our game. We are comfortable being the underdogs.”
Fulton said the success of the Harold Matthews team in reaching the season decider is testament to the development pathway Manly has taken.
“It has been nice to get into the Grand Final and to be able to win it would be even better, but developing the kids and getting them up to the next level through the U18s, U20s, and then obviously into grade is our main goal,’’ Fulton added.
Harold Matthews Grand Final
Newcastle Knights v Manly Sea Eagles
Leichhardt Oval, Saturday 6 May, 11am
Entry $5 adults, children under 16 free, pensioners free
The Sea Eagles will provide a LIVE score update service on the Grand Final on our official Twitter and Facebook accounts.
More Manly Harold Matthews articles
Click here why a flying start in the Grand Final is important.
See the Manly team here and their season results.