Fifty Years Ago - 1971 Preliminary Final Preview

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George Peterson's column previews the 1971 Prelim FInal between Manly and St George, with the winner set to face Souths in the Grand Final a week later.

The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles and the St George Dragons will clash at the SCG this week, with the winner to meet South Sydney in the Grand Final on September 18. 

The teams split the home and away season 1 win each, with Manly winning in round 4 and St George winning in round 15.  The Dragons scored four tries to one in the 26 to 9 win over Manly and after losing four matches in the first half of the season, lost just two between round 9 and round 22.   Minor Premiers Manly, on the other hand, started with seven wins in a row and after a mid-season form slump that coincided with injuries to Mal Reilly and Lindsay Drake, lost no matches after July 11, until Souths lowered their colours last Saturday. 

Manly are strongly favoured to win, if, we are to believe the coverage in the Herald.  A string of stories during the week, pushed the Manly line.    

On Monday, the headline was "Manly Team unchanged".  

On Tuesday, the headline was "Saints hold winning team", but Alan Clarkson's text was mostly about the supposed risks that the Dragons were taking with team selections. "The St George selectors certainly show a lot of faith in two of their relatively inexperienced players, centre Clapham and prop Eden". He went on to say, "The forwards are a lightweight pack, but they showed against Parramatta that size does not make that much difference." 

By Wednesday, the curing of Malcolm Reilly's knee injury was in big letters with Manly Secretary Ken Arthurson quoted saying, "getting through that tough semi-final last Saturday, was the best medicine Reilly could have had". 

Thursdays Herald headline was "Manly back to top form" with the Manly doctor coming out to say, that his club, sent at least five players onto the field last Saturday, who were not fully fit, and named them as Bob Fulton, Lindsay Drake, Allan Thompson, Ian Martin and Malcolm Reilly. However, the doctor went on to say, the players will be 100% fit this week.  Manly supporters were heard to say as they sat around Brookvale, watching their team train "this is a final they would want to be fit!" Even with the benefit of hindsight it seems hard to believe that a club would risk so manly players who were not fully fit in such an important match.  "Lindsay Drake", the doctor said "required pain killing injections to start the match and a second injection at half-time". Despite this the Manly Doctor said he doesn't think any player will need "Medical aids" this week.   

(I am always sceptical about the use of code words like "medical aids" and 50 years later clubs still hide behind this sort of language when what they mean is that some players can't get on the field without deadening the body's message system that informs the brain of physical problems, it has a simple name, it's called pain.) 

By Friday, the headline, "Blueprint to curb Saints pair" informed readers that Manly coach Ron Wiley had devised a "master plan" his team will use to ‘curb' the brilliance of Saints fullback Graeme Langlands and halfback Billy Smith.  

To finish off the build-up for the week, the Saturday morning Herald was headed; 

"Manly ‘millionaires' favoured in RL final".  

Lead writer, Alan Clarkson, had it seemed, decided some time ago, who he thought would win this match and looking back on the week, the Herald reportage backs his opinion.  By Saturday morning he started by quoting Manly Coach Ron Wiley',  

"We will be too big, too fast and too skilled for Saints," Willey confidently predicted. "And after we beat Saints in the final, we will take the title off South Sydney the following week." (Most modern coaches would baulk at giving such psychological ammunition to their opposition, but Wiley obviously had confidence in his team and his approach.) 

The match kicks off at 3pm Sydney time at the home of Rugby League, the Sydney Cricket Ground.  Saints mentor Jack Gibson, who went on to have "Supercoach" appended to his name, must have smiled at all the attention given to Manly, by the press.  I'll give the last word to legendary Saints administrator, Club Secretary Frank Facer, "We will give them one hell of a game."