NRL finals football served up a flashback to days of old as the Sydney Roosters and Manly played out a classic slugfest in their qualifying final at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.
After the controversy and drama in the early contest between Cronulla and North Queensland, the feature event was more boxing bout with both sides still swinging to the bitter end.
The prize for the Roosters was a week off as they advanced to week three of the finals, just one win away from reaching the grand final.
Manly, though, has to first recover from a rugged, sapping encounter and then prepare to take on Cronulla in a sudden-death semi-final at Allianz Stadium next Friday night.
In winning the minor premiership the Roosters established themselves as the competitions pre-eminent defensive side and they needed to be at their best tonight as they denied Manly time and time again. The Sea Eagles werent far behind.
The match was only 10 minutes old when an angled James Maloney grubber was expertly chased down by New Zealander Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for a try. There was no thought then that the scoring would start and end with that moment but so it played out, the next 70 minutes scoreless yet never less that enthralling if not astonishing.
The numbers were so overwhelmingly in Manlys favour. They had 49 sets in possession and gained almost 1800 metres while the Roosters had 39 sets and gained only 1146 metres. The Sea Eagles had the only three line breaks of the match and also had a huge 12-5 advantage in the penalty count.
Faced with such odds the Roosters defended both heroically and remarkably to protect their slim advantage for so long.
Kiwi superstar Sonny Bill Williams, sublime against South Sydney a week earlier, was again to the forefront but this time equally so defensively as he topped the Roosters provisional tackle count with 36 tackles while also gaining 122 metres from 14 carries.
Few, though, could match Manlys former Vodafone Junior Warrior Peta Hiku. With Brett Stewart a late withdrawal with a hamstring injury, Hiku was thrust into his NRL finals debut against the toughest of opponents. He didnt flinch, carrying the ball more than any other player (25) and gaining a game-high 278 metres. He also produced six tackle breaks in a flawless display but neither he nor any of his team-mates could find the magic needed to break the Roosters resolve.
At Allianz Stadium, Sydney
(1) Sydney Roosters 4 (Roger Tuivasa-Sheck try).
(4) Manly Sea Eagles 0.
Halftime: 4-0 Roosters.
Referees: Ben Cummins and Gerard Sutton.