Manly Warringah Sea Eagles suffered a heart-breaking 34-23 loss to Illawarra Steelers in a thrilling SG Ball Cup Grand Final at Bankwest Stadium this afternoon.
It was the first time the Sea Eagles and the Steelers had met this season after both clubs were placed on opposite sides of the 17-team draw. The Sea Eagles have never won an SG Ball Cup Gand Final since the U18s competition started in 1965.
Manly finished the regular season as minor premiers with seven wins from nine matches while Illawarra finished second with six wins from eight matches.
The Sea Eagles were forced to soak up some early pressure on their tryline from the Steelers in the first six minutes.
Illawarra opened the scoring in the 16th minute when half-back Jayden Sullivan put through a short grubber kick for centre Aaron Schoupp to score near the posts for a 4-0 lead. Sullivan missed the conversion attempt.
The Steelers took an 8-0 lead when Sullivan showed his skills from his touch football background to combine with Schoupp before Sullivan scored near the posts. He converted his own try for a 10-0 lead after 14 minutes.
Manly full-back Kaeo Weekes then showed his pace to pull down a runaway Illawarra player who took an intercept pass
The Sea Eagles got back in the game when five-eighth and captain Joshua Schuster took the line on to break the defence to score a fine try behind the posts in the 21st minute. Hooker Jack Birt converted to leave Manly trailing 10-6 with 11 minutes remaining before half-time.
The Steelers took a 14-6 lead when prop Blake Dowel used his strength to crash over in a one-on-one tackle to score under the posts. Sullivan converted for a 16-6 lead after 27 minutes.
A penalty goal to Sullivan saw the Steelers take an 18-6 lead with four minutes to go before half-time.
Manly hit back when full-back Kaeo Weekes (below) crossed in the left corner in the 33rd minute. Birt’s attempt after the half-time siren hit the posts to leave Manly trailing 18-10 at the break.
The Sea Eagles got back to trail 18-16 lead when lock Sione Fainu used his power and strength to crash over next to the posts. Schuster converted the try.
The Steelers hit back immediately through a try to Sullivan for a 22-16 lead. Sullivan missed the close-range attempt in the 48th minute.
Manly quickly replied when Weekes scored his second try off a great offload by centre Ben Trbojevic who used his strength to break the defence before sending the full-back on his way. Trbojevic converted for a 22-all scoreline after 52 minutes.
The Sea Eagles were then forced to dig deep on their line before managing to hold up five-eighth Talatau Amone under the posts on the last tackle.
The Steelers then held up prop Alec Tuitavake over the line after Manly went on the attack through a penalty.
The Sea Eagles took a 23-22 lead through a field goal to half-back Jamie Lawler in the 62nd minute.
Illawarra replied a minute later when Amone slid over next to the posts for a 26-23 lead. Sullivan converted for a 28-23 lead with three minutes to go.
The Steelers then secured victory when full-back Treigh Stewart scored with two seconds remaining. Sullivan converted for the 34-23 scoreline.
Manly Grand Final team
1 Kaeo Weekes, 2 Simon Tito, 3 Jonah Palota-Kopa, 4 Ben Trbojevic, 13 Keegan Turner, 6 Josh Schuster (c), 7 Jamie Lawler, 8 Alec Tuitavake, 9 Jack Birt, 16 Tyreece Matangi, 11 Zac Fulton, 12 Siua Fotu, 10 Sione Fainu; Interchange: 14 Gordon Chan Kum Tong, 15 James Uesele, 17 Viliami Fifita, 23 Angus O'Donnell; Coach: Brett Fulton