Joined: 29 Sep 2007
|Posted: Mon Aug 01, 2016 11:59 am Post subject: End Of An Era - Sea Eagles & Bears
|Sea Eagles And Bears Play Their Final Game In Senior Rugby League As An Era Comes To An End
August 1, 2016
IT has been one of rugby league’s fiercest rivalries and it started 70 years ago.
But one of the game’s great traditions had its swansong at Brookvale Oval last Saturday.
With no fanfare, the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles and the North Sydney Bears played their final game of senior football against each other in front of a tiny crowd in the NSW Cup. Most spectators would have been blissfully unaware they were witnessing a piece of history.
Norths had the final say, winning the derby 32-18, in a game where Sea Eagle Jamil Hopoate scored three tries.
Next year, it will all be different when the Sea Eagles form a partnership with the powerful Blacktown Workers Club.
Manly Sea Eagles playing the North Sydney Bears in their final game of senior football against each other at Brookvale Oval.
As a result, Manly’s feeder club in the rugby league second tier will become the Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles. And that is where the contracted players who don’t make Manly’s top 17 each week will play.
From the first season that Manly entered the NSW Rugby League competition in 1947, after a “divorce” from North Sydney, the old adage of love thy neighbour went out the window.
And a host of former North Sydney players defected across the old Spit Bridge, including Manly’s first captain Max Whitehead, a member of North Sydney’s 1943 grand final team, whose captain-coach was the late doyen of rugby league broadcasters, Frank Hyde. Whitehead’s other claim to fame was that he was the model for the iconic Chesty Bond singlet.
In the book The Mighty Bears, A Social History Of North Sydney Rugby League, author Andrew Moore wrote that in 1947 the two clubs held at least one social event.
“This, however, proved to be a diplomatic disaster,” Moore said. “With a generous supply of beer and food, a picnic held at Deep Creek, Narrabeen, dissolved into a shambles when angry words were exchanged and fisticuffs ensued.”
North Sydney great Greg Florimo tackled by Manly legend Geoff Toovey in 1995.
The intense feelings continued over the decades, fuelled as players switched between the two clubs. The biggest defection occurred in 1971 when rugby league’s best winger Ken Irvine, who was a Bears legend and life member of the club, joined Manly.
That led to an unprecedented period of mourning on the north shore and only intensified the feeling between the clubs. Other prominent players who moved between the clubs over the years have included Cliff Lyons, John Gray, Don McKinnon, Mitchell Cox, Phil Blake, Ivan Cleary, Bruce Walker, John Dorahy, Bill Hamilton, Freddie Teasdell, Wayne Chisholm, Mick Healey, Graham Williams and Derek Mortitz.
And then there was the ill-fated marriage between the two clubs, the Northern Eagles, which lasted from 2000 to 2002 and was always going to end in tears.
“From day one there was instant rivalry. It was healthy as well as being competitive for a long time,” Blake told the Manly Daily this week.
Phil Blake playing for Manly in 1986.
“It was certainly a game you looked forward to playing in. The ground was always packed and they were great afternoons.
“No matter what grade you played in, there was a combination of players from both clubs at different stages of their careers.”
But Blake said rugby league was getting further and further away from those kinds of rare rivalries in the game.
“And history like that is very hard to come by,” Blake said.
Northern beaches footy icon Blake had his introduction derby as an 18-year-old Sea Eagles whiz kid in just his second or third first-grade game against a massive North Sydney pack that included the likes of McKinnon, Gray, Keith Harris, Mark Graham and Steve Mayoh on a rock-hard North Sydney Oval.
“I looked across and thought, ‘Wow, there are some big Bears over there’,” Blake said.
“I remember the noise of the studs on the cement coming through the underground tunnel and once you got onto the ground there was no difference,” he said.
“They called it Concrete Park for good reason — it was as hard a ground as I have ever played on. It was horrific, to be honest.”
Action in the final senior game betwen Manly and North Sydney at Brookvale Oval.
On that day, Norths beat their arch-rivals 31-12. The stars were Gray, who was back at Norths after a stint with the Sea Eagles, along with Mitchell Cox and McKinnon, who later became Manly players.
After playing 11 seasons with North Sydney between 1977 and 1987, Kangaroo prop McKinnon, who was an institution at Bear Park, finished his career with a season at the Sea Eagles.
McKinnon said his last year at Norths was not a happy one under coach Frank Stanton, who was a former Manly player and premiership-winning coach.
“Frank and I didn’t see eye to eye too much, I don’t think he liked me too much as a player and I certainly didn’t like him as a coach,” McKinnon said.
“He didn’t really want to pick me and I only played six or seven first grade games that year.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be offered a contract for the next season and I didn’t want to sign one anyway.
Don McKinnon in action for the Sea Eagles.
“I was 32 going on 33 and was happy to retire rather than play another year there.”
McKinnon got a call from then Manly coach Bob Fulton and, after trialling, signed a one-year contract.
And despite all those years in the red and black, he didn’t find the transition to pulling on a Sea Eagles jumper tough.
“It was like I had been there my whole career. I knew all the Manly guys and all the officials,” he said.
“A lot of us lived on the northern beaches. We always ran into Gibbsy (John Gibbs), Fatty (Paul Vautin), Magilla (Ian Thomson) and Terry Randall at the pubs or clubs,” he said.
“They would usually come to our club after a game and we normally went back to theirs.”
After representing both clubs, McKinnon says it is sad that they will no longer be playing each other at a senior level. “Rivalries like that aren’t necessarily based on hatred, it might be a bit of mutual respect,” he said.
Manly and Norths will continue playing each other at the junior representative level next year.