The ability to withstand enormous pressure when it mattered the most will give the Manly Sea Eagles plenty of extra confidence leading into Sunday’s Holden Cup Grand Final.
In a thrilling preliminary final, the Sea Eagles led 18-6 at half-time and had to fight off a fast finishing St George-Illawarra Dragons side that was coming home strongly after having a week off the previous weekend.
The Dragons scored two converted tries to make it 18-all with 20 minutes remaining. Fortunately for the Sea Eagles, some brilliant play late by talented half-back Cade Cust got Manly into the grand final.
Firstly, Cust produced a magical flick pass for lock Haumole Olakau’atu to score for a 24-18 lead with nine minutes left.
Cust then took the line on to beat two defenders to score for a 28-18 lead with three minutes left before scoring off his own grubber kick in the final minute for a 34-18 victory.
“At 18-all, the Dragons had all the field possession, the momentum, and their kicking game was on,’’ said Manly Coach Wayne Lambkin.
“We went through a massive lull where we just couldn’t get metres. We were on the back foot, but all of a sudden there was one set where we stuck our noses through, and were rolling down the field.
“I thought St George were going to have a heap of effort in them still because they had so much ball.
“It was a great effort by the boys to keep playing their own game, to set up our shape, and play still under pressure and fatigue in the end.”
Lambkin was also pleased the side chose to keep the pressure on in attack at 24-18, instead of opting for a field goal for a seven point buffer.
“I didn’t want a field goal as we would have thrown away all our field possession. We were better off getting a decent kick in and apply some pressure, and make them come 100 metres,’’ Lambkin said.
“We had momentum and I thought we could score again. The Dragons were the ones under pressure. They had been up there (near the top of the ladder) all year and had beaten us twice, so the heat was on them. It told in the end.”
The Sea Eagles go into the grand final against Parramatta with plenty of self- belief after an incredible finals series.
After finishing the regular season in eighth place, Manly have eliminated the fifth placed Nth Qld Cowboys, minor premiers Cronulla, and the third-placed Dragons to set up a grand final clash with Parramatta, who finished fourth.
Holden Cup Grand Final
Manly vs Parramatta
ANZ Stadium, Sunday October 2