By Adam Lucius

 

First grade premierships don’t come along all that often at Manly Rugby Club. Since 1906, the men in blue have won just seven titles. Adam Lucius looks back at the two most recent victories – 1983 and 1997.  

 

 

Alan Jones sensed after one round of the 1983 Sydney rugby premiership that something special was brewing at Manly.

 

The Blues had just knocked over arch-rivals Warringah and Jones, as he surveyed the dressing room, knew he had a team that ticked every box.

 

"I always thought from the moment we beat Warringah in the first round that we were a big chance to make a bit of history," Jones recalled 26 years on.

 

"I was lucky to have people like Stephen Williams and Philip Cox, Ross Reynolds, Bill Calcraft, Fred Whiteman, Ollie Hall, James Black, Tony Cox, Tim Sheridan, Tex Kennedy, Rod Crerar…all leaders in their own way with a very clear understanding of the game.

 

"Then there were the quiet people like Tony McGeoch, Paul Flemons and 'Spider' Haining, all in their own way contributing as well.

 

"The morale at the club was outstanding. We were above all else a team."

 

But, as always, Randwick and the Ellas loomed large.

 

The Galloping Greens had won five consecutive titles heading into the '83 decider, with talk of a St George Dragons-type dynasty rife.

 

Unfashionable Manly was expected to provide stiff opposition but no-one outside the peninsula gave the Blues much hope of ending Randwick's run.

 

But end it they did, holding on for a courageous 12-10 win on an afternoon of high drama at the old Sydney Sports Ground.

 

Mark Ella, incredibly, missed a drop goal at the death that would have given Randwick victory.  

 

"I remember Gordon Bray (commentating on the ABC) when Mark had to take the field goal with his left foot and missed and we’d won the premiership," continued Jones, who would leave Manly the following year to guide the Wallabies on their history-making Grand Slam tour.

 

"I can remember as if it were yesterday…people pouring onto the Sydney Sports Ground, Mick Mathers from Eastwood, who’d been beaten by Randwick on the way through to the Grand Final, lifting me in the air and I thought I’d never breathe again. 

 

"For all of us these were some of the finest moments of our lives - sporting or non-sporting."

 

Manly would have to wait 14 long years to claim another title.

 

By 1997 the club had controversially changed its nickname from the Blues to Marlins, sweeping into the decider against Eastwood on the back of 12 straight wins.

 

Thirteen proved lucky on this occasion, Manly easily accounting for a young Woodies    

side 34-17 before a crowd of 20,651 at the SFS.

 

"As you can see from the club's history, we haven't won many first grade premierships so to be part of a Manly team that has won a grand final is something to be proud of," skipper Rob Gallacher said.

 

"We were the form team of that year. We had a fantastic backline and a really good pack of forwards but there were no real superstars."

 

The drought-breaking win triggered a week of celebrations in the southern peninsula.

 

"I remember the old rugby club in Sydney Rd was packed to overflowing and celebrations were already going strong by the time we got back there," Gallacher recalled.

 

"The party kept going all week."

 

 

 

  • Alan Jones and Rob Gallacher will be among the guest speakers when the Manly Rugby Club reflects on the 1983 and 1997 premiership victories at its annual mid-season lunch at the Hilton Hotel on July 17. Tickets ($165) are still available on 9977-8269 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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