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George's column previews the action coming up in the Manly-Souths major semi final in season 1971.
Saturday's major semi-final is between Manly-Warringah and South Sydney, two teams that have dominated season 1971, almost from day one.
Souths won 10 of their first 11 matches, losing only to (yes, you guessed it) Manly. The team from Redfern had a mid-season slump losing three matches in a row, including a second loss to Manly and finished the season on 34 points, from 17 wins.
Manly won 9 of their first 11, with losses to the Tommy Bishop inspired Sharks and the Harry Bath coached Newtown, their only blemishes in the first half of the season. In the second half of the year, they dropped just one match, to Jack Gibson's Dragons (last week's winners) to finish on 38 points from 19 wins. It should be no surprise that these three teams (Manly, Souths and St George) are the only teams left with one hand on the JJ Giltinan Shield.
(For Modern readers, the JJ Giltinan Shield, had been awarded to Grand Final winners since 1951 and the story of how it was demoted and replaced by a different trophy, is a story for another day.)
Rod Humphries, writing for the SMH reported that both teams will be at full strength, although, Manly forward Peter Peters is suspended and will take no part no matter how far his team progresses in the finals. Of - course the return of Englishman Malcolm Reilly, more than compensates for Peters absence. Reilly has missed most of the 2nd half of the season after being carried from the field, with a leg injury during round 13 against Easts. In an unusual break from normal practice, Souths' coach Clive Churchill went out of his way to suggest that the rugged Englishman could not possibly be fit and may in fact be a liability, should he take the field. Most coaches when asked by the press about opposition players, prefer the "we only have time to worry about our boys" line, but Churchill must have had his reasons for joining the public debate about Reilly's fitness.
The makeup of the teams for Saturday have been known for a few days. The Manly and South Sydney squads have had 12 days to overcome any niggling injuries. Two Manly players, Allan Thompson and Lindsay Drake passed fitness tests but five-eighth Ian Martin was still limping from a torn ligament behind his left quadricep. However, he will have daily physiotherapy and his recovery / rehab will be overseen by a prominent Orthopaedic Surgeon, who has one maroon and one white eye. (If needed Martin will have a pain killing injection before the match.)
Finally South Sydney players pooled their resources and came up with $500 to bet on themselves to win the match. According to Alan Clarkson in the Herald, they got even money odds and stand to collect $1000, if they win. Clarkson wrote;
"While betting on matches may be frowned upon in official circles, the added incentive must make the players try a little harder." It does not take a genius to work out that the opposite might also be true. Rugby League players must have been very poorly paid in 1971, if players resorted to gambling on their own matches.