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Friday night’s top of the table blockbuster at the Sydney Cricket Ground between the Rabbitohs and the Sea Eagles will no doubt be the centre-piece of round 22. But it certainly isn’t the first time that the two sides have come together on the holy turf of the SCG to exchange fur and feathers in what has proven to be one of the game’s greatest rivalries.
As the competition’s newcomers, Manly weren’t expected to cause any real damage in their first few years of battle – the side having entered the top flight competition in 1947.
However after spending their first four seasons firmly anchored to the bottom of the ladder (finishing ninth and eighth twice out of ten teams), Manly were well and truly in the mix come 1951, finishing an impressive second – albeit a whopping 11 points behind South Sydney, a Club that had already won 12 Premierships by that point.
The men in red and green had returned to Premiership supremacy in 1950, defeating Wests in the Grand Final of that year, ending a drought of 18 years. Names such as Jack Rayner, Bernie Purcell and The Little Master, Clive Churchill, peppered a talented group of players from Redfern.
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By the end of 1951, the real distance between Souths and Manly on the competition ladder would become apparent on Grand Final day, when Manly stepped out for their first ever decider, with the Minor Premiership winning South Sydney providing the opposition.
League publication of the day, The Rugby League News, said of Manly in the Grand Final program that “Manly’s recent football has been first-class and the side is so evenly balanced that it is certain to make a bold showing.” However Manly were no match for a Rabbitohs side intent on defending their Premiership crown.
On Septmber 23, 1951, in front of 28,505 people at the SCG, Manly were comprehensively thumped by Souths 42-14, claiming their 13th Premiership in the process, and setting up Manly’s early tag of being the competition’s perennial bridesmaids – a tag they would continue to hold until 1972, when the side, aided by the acquisition of Rabbitohs Premiership winners such as John ‘Lurch’ O’Neil, and Ray Branighan, finally broke the hoodoo.
Winger Johnny Graves bagged four tries on the day, while Bernie Purcell managed to kick seven goals, bringing his season tally to 106 points.
The day was also significant given that 1951 marked the first year in which the J. J. Giltinan Shield was awarded to the year’s Premiership winning team – the Rabbitohs earning the rare distinction of being the first to etch their names onto it.
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