Eels fall short in Harold Matthews Grand Final
The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles have secured their first-ever UNE Harold Matthews Cup, defeating the Parramatta Eels 26-18 in the grand final at Leichhardt Oval.
Having enjoyed a 10-0 lead early in the contest, the Sea Eagles allowed their rivals back into the game in the second half, trailing 18-16 with just three minutes remaining. Two late tries, however, capped a memorable win for Manly in a game highlighted by the performances of forwards Tyreece Matangi and Siosiua Fotu.
On a perfect day at the historic Leichhardt Oval, the Sea Eagles and Eels met for the second time in the finals series; the Sea Eagles had emerged 26-24 victors in a nail-biting finish three weeks prior.
Immediately from the kick-off, Manly looked the most likely to post points; James Uesele forced his way over, before losing the ball over Parramatta's line. The Eels looked to hit back as a right-side shift seemed likely to send Matthew Komolafe over in the north-eastern corner, but the pass was intercepted by the Sea Eagles' Cameron Brown.
The winger found himself in space and charged 60 metres downfield, before being surprisingly dragged down by Komolafe - but the Parramatta No.2, celebrating his 16th birthday, was deemed to hold his opposite number down for too long. He was ordered to the sin-bin as Manly began to apply pressure.
As the Sea Eagles attacked the Eels' line, they came up with the first points through hooker Gordon Chan Kum Tong. Running straight from dummy-half, the Manly No.9 burrowed his way over for a 6-0 score line.
The Eels were unable to maintain possession when they got their chance, and it would soon be Siosiua Fotu to add another for the Sea Eagles. Fotu sliced through on the left hand side to give Manly a 10-0 lead and one hand on the UNE Harold Matthews Cup.
The celebrations, however, would be short-lived. After Parramatta mounted a case for their opening try - diffused by Manly on multiple occasions - they eventually found their way through via Josh Tuipulotu. The Eels fullback's breakthrough was a significant one as the Eels drew within four points.
Soon after, momentum continued to swing the Eels' way. After a line-break, Valeli Tonga was sin-binned for the same reason that Komolafe was earlier. It gave the Eels an air of confidence - and when they earned a penalty in front of the posts on the stroke of half-time, they reduced the gap to two points.
The Sea Eagles made their intent known immediately after the resumption, with Fotu putting forward a strong run off the kick-off to get the Leichhardt crowd to their feet. An error and penalty from Manly, however, gave Parramatta the opportunity to take the lead.
The Eels made no mistake when Drew Lloyd forced his way over, taking them out to a 14-10 lead and earning them the momentum early in the second half.
Soon after, the Eels extended their lead when Matthew Komolafe burst through for a well-deserved try, making the scores 18-10. The Eels were soon dealt a devastating blow, however, when Tuipulotu was crushed in an unfortunate collision in their own half. The fullback had to be stretchered off in a big loss for the Eels.
The Sea Eagles needed to muster their best Rugby League if they were to notch up their maiden under-16s title - and they delivered.
First, it was Tony Francis who burst through the Eels defence in emotive scenes for Manly, returning them to a two-point deficit. The clock was not on their side, however, with time running out to regain the lead.
With just three minutes remaining, the Sea Eagles continued to pepper the Eels' line and eventually, it cracked. Uinitoni Mataele slid through the defence to score the side's fourth and earn them an unlikely four-point lead in the dying stages.
Parramatta were desperate to hit back at the death, spreading it to the right-hand side with seconds remaining. An intercept to Manly's Cameron Brown, however, put the icing on the cake and secured the premiership.
The Sea Eagles will now take on an under-16s Western Rams outfit, with a date and time TBC.