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Manly's inaugural 1947 first grade team
Back row (l-r) C 'Kelly' McMahon, Merv Gillmer, Keith Kirkwood, Harry Grew, Johnny Bliss; Middle row (l-r) Jim Hall, AJ 'Bert' Collins, Max Whitehead (Captain), Mackie Campbell, Jim Walsh; Front row (l-r) Ern Cannon, Gary Maddrell, Pat Hines.

Seventy-five years ago today, the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles recorded their first ever win in the Club’s history, marking the start of a famous rivalry.

The date was Saturday, May 31, 1947. A crowd of 3200 gathered at Brookvale Oval to watch new clubs, Manly Warringah and the Parramatta Eels, do battle for the first time in their debut season in the NSWRL first grade premiership.

Both clubs were granted entry to the NSWRL premiership on November 4, 1946.

The match against the Eels was the third game in charge for new Manly Head Coach Ray Stehr, who took over from inaugural Coach Harold Johnston after he was sacked following five straight losses.

Although Manly lost to Balmain (24-10) and Norths (21-9) under Stehr, there were signs of much improved performances from the team ahead of the round eight premiership match.

According to author Robert Smith in the book, The Sea Eagle Has Landed, there was a greater emphasis by Stehr on utilising the “slick finishing abilities’ of wingers, Johnny Bliss and Gordon Willoughby.

The game plan paid off with both wingers scoring two tries each in the 15-7 win over the Eels.

“Willoughby’s second try was a screamer. He latched on to a pass from Cyril McMahon at halfway, fended off two defenders, and then turned his hip into the hapless fullback sending him reeling from the impact,’’ Smith wrote.

“He then swan dived over the line in his trademark flourishing style.”

Following the win over the Eels, Manly went on to beat Canterbury 24-23, Newtown 33-0, and Eastern Suburbs 23-12.

Manly finished their debut season in second last spot with four wins from 18 games. The wooden spoon went to Parramatta (three wins).

From that season, Kelly McMahon was Manly’s leading points scorer with 74 points (8 tries, 25 goals) while Bliss, a multi-champion beach sprinter, was Manly’s leading tryscorer with 10 tries.

Second-rower Keith ‘Megsy’ Kirkwood was the only player to play in all 18 games for Manly.

The 1947 season also saw the first grade debut of a 17-year-old prop Roy Bull, who played the last five games and would go on to become Manly's first international. 

Roy Bull (Sea Eagle #17) became Manly’s first international player when he was selected for Australia’s tour to New Zealand in 1949.
Roy Bull (Sea Eagle #17) became Manly’s first international player when he was selected for Australia’s tour to New Zealand in 1949.

Manly vs Parramatta, May 31, 1947, Brookvale Oval

Manly 15 (Johnny Bliss 2, Gordon Willoughby 2 tries; Keith Kirkwood goal) d Parramatta 7 (Keith Gerbasch try, Les Bell 2 goals). Crowd: 3200. Referee: George Bishop.

Sea Eagles team

1 Eric Bathgate, 2 Gordon Willoughby, 3 Merv Gillmer, 4 Cyril McMahon, 5 Johnny Bliss, 6 Tom Jensen, 7 Ron Smith, 8 Harry Grew, 9 Arthur Dawes, 10 Max Whitehead (c), 11 Don Matheson, 12 Keith Kirkwood, 13 Charles Robinson. Coach: Ray Stehr 

Parramatta team

1 D Schilling, 2 Keith Gersbach, 3 Bob Andrews (c), 4 Edward Hearn, 5 Johnny Smith, 6 Les Bell, 7 Wally Woodward, 8 Fred McKean, 9 George Cook, 10 D Spurway, 11 Neville Brennan, 12 George Saywell, 13 Arthur Slattery. Coach: Frank McMillan.


Acknowledgement of Country

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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