The 1996 NRL Grand Final Winners: The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles

The 1996 season was a tumultuous one for the game of Rugby League, with the Super League War finally having an effect on the field as Super League aligned clubs chose to forfeit games in the first round of the season.

Despite this many of the best team of the mid 90’s put their best foot forward in 1996, with Brisbane Broncos, North Sydney Bears and Canberra Raiders all having solid seasons, while being joined by the surging Cronulla Sharks and newly resurgent Sydney City Roosters.

Throughout the season however the Sea Eagles looked a class above everyone else. Having been there or there about for a couple of years by this point, the Sea Eagles mixture of defensive minded talent, crafty veterans, and youngsters who seemed to come into their own in this season proved too strong for everyone else as the club took out the minor premiership.

The Sea Eagles were not only the best defensive team in 1996, they are considered to be one of the best defensive teams of all time. The Sea Eagles allowed just 191 points to be scored against them in 22 games, while their attack was the third best in the competition. This saw them enter the finals series are one of the favourites, and after a close first up win over the Sydney City Roosters (16-14), and a rampaging win over the Cronulla Sharks (24-0) the Sea Eagles found themselves in the clubs first Grand Final of the 1990s.

There they would face a surprise packet in the St George Dragons, who who came from 7th spot on the ladder to beat the previous seasons premiers, the Canberra Raiders (16-14) and would inflict further misery on the North Sydney Bears by beating them in the preliminary final (29-12).

This set up an all Sydney Grand Final, something which meant a lot in 1996 as most Super League aligned clubs were out of Sydney teams.

The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles – 1996 Grand Final Team
1 Matthew Ridge
2 Danny Moore
3 Craig Innes
4 Terry Hill
5 John Hopoate
13 Nik Kosef
7 Geoff Toovey (C)
17 David Gillespie
9 Jim Serdaris
10 Mark Carroll
11 Steve Menzies
12 Daniel Gartner
8 Owen Cunningham

6 Cliff Lyons
15 Neil Tierney
16 Des Hasler
19 Craig Hancock

Coach: Bob Fulton

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 20
Tries: Craig Innes, Steve Menzies, Danny Moore
Goals: Matthew Ridge 3/3, Craig Innes 1/1
Field Goal: Matthew Ridge

St George Dragons 8
Tries: Nik Zisti
Goals: Wayne Bartrim 2/2

Master coach Bob Fulton shuffled his lineup to start the game, looking to go with a more defensively minded team from the kickoff. The Sea Eagles had a number of players who could fill in different roles across the field at a very high level, the likes of Nik Kosef who could cover at 5/8, Steve Menzies who was just as comfortable playing out wide in the centres as he was in the second row and with Des Hasler on the bench who could fill in at hooker and in the halves.

During the match the Sea Eagles class shone through. While the Dragons were a good team who had a great run through the finals, this Manly-Warringah side was a class above, and they proved it on the day with a very solid first half performance, and a more defensive minded, grinding effort in the second.

The Grand Final triumph was the 6th in the Sea Eagles history. Geoff Toovey claimed the Clive Churchill Medal as the games man of the match.

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