When you think Manly vs Warriors rivalry, the mind quickly goes back to the 2011 Grand Final victory.
It was a time when we had the most inexperienced halves pairing in the competition in Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry Evans combined with the nucleus of the 2008 Premiership winning team of Jamie Lyon, Anthony Watmough, the Stewart brothers, Jason King, Brent Kite, Steve Matai, Michael Robertson and Matt Ballin to name a few.
Pre-season interview: Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans
Our Sea Eagles triumphed 24-10 on the back of a Brett and Glen Stewart masterclass on the first Sunday in October.
However, this is a yarn about our Kiwi friends over the ‘ditch’.
There are so many reasons to love New Zealand. The People. The Culture. The breathtaking beauty of the country, to name a few.
And yes, the Warriors belong on this list.
Most of us Northern Beaches folk have a lifelong Kiwi friend that we met at a pub in Manly. A Kiwi that came for a ‘4 week holiday’, and stayed for a lifetime. Can you blame them?
Before the Auckland Warriors entered the NRL in 1995, if you asked most Kiwi rugby league fans who they supported, the answer would have been Manly.
The Northern Beaches and New Zealand have always had a special connection, and this one- eyed Eagle has come to the conclusion that this connection is largely influenced by A) The Kiwi backpackers that frequent Manly Corso, and B.) Rugby League.
The Eagles have had a proud history of Kiwis pulling on the Maroon and White. Tonight’s team includes three Kiwi Internationals in Kieran Foran, Marty Tapau and Morgan Harper.
But let’s go back a little further –
There was the 'hitman' Steve Matai, who put his body on the line in all of his 230 games for Manly and 10 Tests for New Zealand.
And before Billy Slater revolutionized the fullback position, there was the great Matthew Ridge, who played 122 games in the maroon and white, and had 25 Tests for the Kiwis. Who remembers his deadly goal kicking, his ball playing, and those place kick penalties for touch?
Then there was the Iro brothers, Kevin and Tony. Before the late great Sea Eagles ground announcer Grant Goldman’s booming voice was shouting “BEAVERRRRRRRRRRRR”, it was “THE CHIEFFFFFFFF”, as Tony would come off the back fence when returning a kick-off.
Don’t forget Darrell Williams, famous for flattening Wally Lewis in a Test Match! A premiership winner for Manly in 1987 who went on to play 21 Tests for the Kiwis.
And of course, the great Craig Innes! Another rugby union convert who was an integral part of our 1996 and 1997 squads, and formed a deadly left edge with John Hopoate.
When the Auckland Warriors entered the competition in 1995, Manly returned the favour with one of our all-time greats, Phil Blake, lining up in their first ever game.
There was a young Kiwi, too, by the name of Gene Ngamu, who debuted for the Sea Eagles as an 18 year old in 1992, and went on to play a major role in that first season across the ditch.
Then ‘Ridgey’ would join the Warriors in 1997, and who would take over him as the Warriors fullback in the year 2000? None other than Manly junior Ivan Cleary!.
There is an old saying in rugby league, “If Souths are going well, rugby league is going well”.
I respectfully disagree, and would like to propose a new saying, “If the Warriors are going well, rugby league is going well”.
The Warriors have made huge sacrifices the past three seasons on the back of Covid. So, I wish them well, and they deserve success.
But just not tonight at 4 Pines Park. See you there!