Manly Warringah Sea Eagles suffered a heart breaking 26-20 loss to Newcastle Knights in extra-time in the Harold Matthews Grand Final at Leichhardt Oval today.
In an absolute thriller between two gun sides, the Sea Eagles looked set to secure the premiership against the undefeated minor premiers with the Knights scoring on the final play inside the final seconds of regular time to make it 20-all.
Five-eighth Max Buderus had the chance to win the game with a sideline conversion but his attempt missed to send the match into five minutes each way of extra-time.
The Knights then scored the only try of extra time a minute before the break when Newcastle captain Jaron Purcell scored next to the posts for a 24-20 lead.
Manly tried everything in the final five minutes but it wasn’t to be in the end, but the players can hold their heads high for an outstanding performance.
Coached by Brett Fulton, this Sea Eagles side has already achieved a special place in the Manly history books in becoming the first club team to contest a Harold Matthews Grand Final since the competition began in 1970.
Manly 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 were firm favourites 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.
Manly opened the scoring in the fourth minute when centre Keegan Turner dived over from dummy half for a 4-0 lead. Half-back Daniel Ala failed to convert from the sideline.
The Sea Eagles went to an 8-0 lead after prop Filimaua Filimaua Tau used his strength to crash over next to the posts after Manly elected to take a tap from 20 metred out and in front of the posts a few tackles earlier.
Ala converted the try for a 10-0 lead after 22 minutes.
The lead was cut to 10-4 at half-time when Newcastle second-rower Riley Meyn scored from a grubber kick 18 seconds before the break.
Manly captain and second-rower Joshua Schuster gave his side a handy 14-4 lead when he crashed over in the left corner two minutes after half-time. Ala failed to convert the try.
Newcastle prop Christian Ma’anaima got his side back to 14-8 when he carried three defenders to score out wide. Five-eighth Max Buderus converted for a 14-10 scoreline.
The Knights drew level when second-rower Meyn stepped back inside the defence from a Manly drop ball to score under the posts for a 14-all scoreline. Buderus converted to give Newcastle a 16-14 lead with 17 minutes remaining.
Manly full-back Albert Hopoate, the competition’s leading tryscorer, then scored under the posts. Ala converted for a 20-16 lead with seven minutes remaining.
What followed was a very intense, nail biting final few minutes.
Manly looked set to take victory until Newcastle winger Patrick Achurch scored in the left corner in the final play. Buderus missed the conversion for a 20-all scoreline and to send the game into extra-time.
1 Albert Hopoate
2 Armani Biddle
3 Keegan Turner
4 Ben Trbojevic
5 Uluaki Tuipulotu
6 Kaeo Weekes
7 Daniel Ala
8 Filimaua Filimaua Tau
9 Jack Birt
10 Alec Tuitavake
11 Jacob Ratcliff
12 Joshua Schuster (C)
13 Levi Moger
14 Luke Rouland
15 Tyreece Matangi
16 Viliami Fifita
17 Angus O’Donnell