MANLY stands on the cusp of history. And this proud club doesn't expect to be anywhere else.When the Sea Eagles run out on to the turf at ANZ Stadium tomorrow evening, they will become the only club to play in a grand final in every decade since the 1950s.
Source: The Australian
The Sea Eagles celebrate their premiership victory in 2008 Picture: Gregg Porteous Source: The Daily Telegraph
Win tomorrow night and bookmakers have them odds on to do just that and extend their tally of premierships to eight and the Sea Eagles will become the only club to have won a title in every decade since the 70s.
It is a remarkable record and raises the question: just where do the Sea Eagles sit compared with other clubs in terms of greatness?
South Sydney's 20 titles place the Rabbitohs as rugby league's most successful but the red-and-green hasn't been sighted on grand final day since 1971.
The Dragons boast the record for the most grand final wins with 15 - and the most consecutive grand final wins with 11 from 1956-66 - but it took the Red V until last year to end a 30-year title drought dating back to 1979.
Brisbane, peerless since joining the competition in 1988, has six premierships, but can the Broncos maintain that pace?
Manly's godfather, Ken Arthurson, believes his old club isn't afforded the respect it deserves. That doesn't surprise him, however. He claims that's been an issue for the Sea Eagles for as long as he can remember.
Arthurson, 82 today, is an appropriate starting point when it comes to talking about Manly, given he played in the club's first grand final, in 1951. It was a fine effort as the club had been given a licence to join the NSWRL competition only four years earlier.
While the Sea Eagles would continue to remain competitive (Arthurson also guided the club to grand finals as a coach), premiership success would elude them until after the Manly patriarch shifted into an administrative role as secretary in 1963.
It was here that he made his mark and it wasn't long before Manly's reputation as Sydney's most-hated club was born. Arthurson used his negotiating skills and the club's finances to lure players to the club who would go on to become greats of the game. Names such as Bob Fulton, Graham Eadie, Ken Irvine, Mal Reilly, Terry Randall, John O'Neill, Paul Vautin and Les Boyd. "It often intrigues me, when some people say they hate Manly, because I find in many instances you can substitute jealousy for hate," Arthurson said.
"They talk about players we bought but we brought players down to play with Manly blokes like Fulton, Eadie, Paul Vautin, 16, 17, 18 years of age who had never ever played a senior game of football in their lives. Manly developed those players and made them into great internationals.
"Other clubs had the opportunity to go and get those players had they wanted to, but just because they were beaten off the mark, some of them got crooked about it."
Eadie was only 18 when he played in the club's first premiership victory in 1972. The Sea Eagles had been in business for only 25 years but Arthurson's aggressive recruitment strategy was already breeding a winning culture. The Silvertails tag was not far away.
"I know when I went there in the 70s, Ken Arthurson was proud of the club and he instilled that into his players," Eadie said.
"When Ken went to Sydney, all the blokes that took over as the secretary or the CEO from then on have had pride in the club. It's just pride players have in being part of that club."
Noel Cleal agrees. He is an important part of the Sea Eagles' current success, given he is the club's recruitment manager, but he is also part of the tapestry of the place, having played in the backrow of the 1987 title-winning team. "It's just the culture of the joint, mate," Cleal said. "It breeds success and thrives on a bit of us-against-them.
"They've had some great coaches and some great administrators and some great players, and you put all that together and it will give you success."
Geoff Toovey is another important cog in the Sea Eagles' machine. He was part of the 1996 premiership-winning team and will wear the trainers' blue shirt tomorrow night as he relays instructions from the coaches box to the players on the field.
"I think expectations and success of the past obviously flow through, and the group of players we've had over the last few years epitomise that," Toovey said.
A lot of that has to do with coach Des Hasler. He tasted premiership success as a player in both 1986 and 1996 but has arguably played his most important role since returning as coach in 2004.
At that time, Manly was still counting the cost of the Super League war and a failed joint venture with North Sydney. Things were so grim that the club was only 24 hours away from folding before being rescued by private backers.
Once its finances were back in order, the club turned to Hasler and his team to restore Manly's reputation as a benchmark in the NRL. He needed only four seasons to take it to a grand final in 2007. He went one better the following year when Manly won the premiership against Melbourne.
"It comes back to the resolve of the people that are working there," Hasler said. "At the moment, we've got an incredible group of people in place that have worked really, really hard and they're backed and supported by staff who support the players."
"I think everyone has played a role and that's one of the important parts of the fabric of Manly. You need that to be part of that fabric and that's something that is built and developed over time."All that stands between Manly and adding to that fabric is the Warriors. A premiership will allow them to add to a record that every other club can only chase.
"They're just not prepared to accept second-best and I guess that's just a culture thing that's been built in from the start," NRL historian David Middleton said. "No other club has done what they have, it's a unique achievement."