It was an 80-minute torrid affair between two battle-hardened sides. It was two of Rugby League’s fiercest rivalries coming up against each other. It was the Brookvale Heist.
You’ll remember it: early 2013, the Rabbitohs have shot out of the blocks and firmed themselves as premiership contenders after winning five of their first six matches. There were still plenty of questions over this enthusiastic squad to see if they could take on their more fancied opponents from the northern beaches.
They ventured across Spit Bridge to take on the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, a club who were notorious for their tenacity and tough style of play, and had indulged in recent premiership success.
The venue of choice: Brookvale Oval – famously coined ‘Fortress Brookvale’ by Manly supporters. The Red and Greens arrived at the ground having only won once in the last eight encounters, with Manly only having lost three of their last 22 at the venue. This would fail to phase the Rabbitohs however, as they came into a packed house with plenty of atmosphere and hostility.
There was plenty of anticipation pre-game as both sides were entrenched in the top four, with some enticing match ups to look forward to. Halfbacks Adam Reynolds and Daly Cherry-Evans were the generals of their sides, and both looked to dominate early, while the battle between the two number ones saw Greg Inglis and Brett Stewart, two of the superstars of the competition, come head to head. Both forward packs were brimming with hitmen that could turn a match on its head.
The task wouldn’t get any easier for the Rabbitohs as Sea Eagles forward Glenn Stewart, one of their key figures, returned from injury.
From the kick-off there was an air of hostility from both supporter bases, which was apparent early on as Rabbitohs hooker Issac Luke dumping his opposite Matt Ballin in a hard tackle, with no penalty being called, and a huge roar of disapproval coming from the Silvertails contingent.
After high intensity and strong defence in the opening exchanges, Manly winger Jorge Taufua broke through the Red and Green wall and rushed his way downfield, but was brought to the ground by fullback Greg Inglis. It was heart in mouths for Souths supporters as Manly looked to break in early, but would fail to convert their chance with Souths defence holds on strong, preventing David Williams from going over in consecutive cover tackles.
The crowd would come into equation again as Rabbitohs hardman Ben Te’o was pinged for a high tackle, giving Manly another chance in enemy territory.
It seemed as someone had wound back the clock to the glory days of the 1970s as this match was filled with heavy collisions and illegal indiscretions, none of which were unidentified by the officials. This was old school rugby league at its core.
The home side were growing restless by the determined Rabbitohs’ defence, and their trigger happy attack began to overshoot kicks and make errors. Similarly, the crowd continued to grow more and more restless as the Rabbitohs continued to hold strong.
But with vintage rugby league comes the gladiatorial and primitive physicality that it was infamous for, and in 18th minute the first major incident of this clash occurred; Richie Fa’aoso dumping Inglis on his head in a dangerous lifting tackle and getting himself on report.
Just five minutes later, Inglis was again the victim of another spear tackle, this time from prop Jason King. For the second time in the match, Manly had a player on report, but it was obvious to see that, in their typical brutish manner, were trying to take out the star fullback.
As they say in the classics, you cut the head off the snake, and the body will die. The Rabbitohs opted for a penalty kick to simmer things down, and hold a slight 2-0 advantage after 25 minutes.
On the ensuing kick-off young prop George Burgess was smashed by the defence – which would be a sign of things to come for him.
The Sea Eagles continued to push the referees as fullback Brett Stewart clipped winger Andrew Everingham across the face with his elbow in a cheap shot, which should have been a sin binning offence. But Stewart escaped on field punishment and was put on report, making him the third Silvertail of the night on the booking sheet.
It was obvious that the growing restlessness of the crowd was having an effect on the officiating as prop Roy Asotasi received a harsh penalty for stripping, but the Red and Green wall continued to hold as Manly continued to shoot themselves in the foot.
Reynolds’ penalty kick would remain to be the only thing separating the sides into halftime, but that was all about to change thanks to the man they call ‘GI’.
Just thirty seconds into the second half, Inglis, fitted with head bandages, burst through the Manly defence, sized up Stewart and brushed past him, scoring one of the tries of the season, and sending the Burrow faithful into raptures.
For the second time, Fa’aoso would drive Inglis into the ground, with the referee’s whistle blowing immediately and getting himself on report once more. It seemed the Silvertails could get away with murder as the officiators refused to send any of them to the sin bin.
But the Rabbitohs would turn the growing penalty count into points on the next attacking raid. Five-eighth John Sutton strolled through Manly’s on-line defence and scored next to the posts, extending the lead to fourteen. After such a tight contest in the first half, the second half had started perfectly, but things weren’t as rosy as they seemed, as on the ensuing play, the match exploded.
Manly hard man Steve Matai, a notorious hit man of the NRL, would take matters into his own hands to try and inspire his teammates.
George Burgess, in his second year of first grade, was floored in a controversial tackle by Matai, who swung a stray arm, which ricocheted off the ball and hitting him straight in the face. The ball and the man were both on the floor, which sparked an all in brawl.
With a flurry of punches thrown in a small sea of red, green, maroon and white, the match had clearly reached boiling point. As the crowd continued to jeer on the players, with the dust settling down, Matai became the fourth Sea Eagle on report for the night, while Sam Burgess avoided punishment.
It seemed like we were finally getting some rub of the green. It was a sigh of relief for Rabbitohs fans, but just a few minutes later it, relief would turn into cheering as the lead grew further through Beau Champion. A Reynolds trademark bomb found Everingham, who tapped the ball back, which bounced off the ground and into the arms of the proud Souths junior. The scrambling Sea Eagles defence couldn’t recover, and Reynolds booted the conversion to give us a 20-0 lead after 55 minutes.
The home crowd was stunned. Silent. We had come to fortress Brookvale, stormed in and made it our own. Although the intensity had died down, the Silvertails' intentions hadn’t, with Anthony Watmough scoring their first try soon after, and with ten minutes to go, Cherry-Evans found himself on the scoresheet after pouncing on a loose ball.
Now with an eight point lead with just five minutes to go, there were nervous signs coming from the Rabbitohs. Had they conquered their opponents, or were they going to let this one slip?
On the attack again, Brett Stewart dabbled a ball behind the Rabbitohs line, and winger David ‘Wolfman’ Williams appeared to have scored. It was a heart pumping moment that stopped time. But again, the video evidence showed that the ball was dropped over the line.
Once again, relief.
We did it. We had conquered our old foes in their backyard. We completed the Brookvale Heist.