Ahead of Friday night's Sea Eagles vs Roosters semi-final clash, we take a look back at one of the greatest games of the modern era.
Finals games weren't supposed to be like this anymore.
Rugby league games weren't supposed to be like this anymore.
When Manly and the Roosters walked onto the field at the Sydney Football Stadium on September 14 2013, it was, remarkably, the first time they had met in a finals game in the NRL era.
"For me, the SFS was the home of rugby league. That's where as a kid I went to grand finals, and to play there in September, it's a different feeling. The weather's a bit warmer and the crowd's a little bit more vocal," prop George Rose, a member of the Sea Eagles team in that match, told Wide World of Sports.
There was a rematch in the grand final a few weeks' later, but it was this qualifying final that's stood the test of time.
4-0? There were A-League games at the same ground that year with higher points totals.
The Roosters had held five teams scoreless, and another four to single digits, but this was the mighty Sea Eagles. While both games had been arm wrestles earlier in the year, there'd still been a combined 50 points scored across them.
"We ended up playing them four times, and every time bar the grand final, they had our number," Rose recalls.
"They shut down everything we threw at them. Every shape, every play, they had an answer and were able to hold us out.
"It got to a point where we thought 'what's the answer? How do we get through here?'"
Alongside a 4-0 win for St George over Illawarra in the 1992 finals, this game remains the second-lowest-scoring finals game ever, behind the 1924 Grand Final, which Balmain won over Souths 3-0. Although, tries were only worth three points back then.
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The only big game of the 21st century that even comes close to this level of attrition was in 2004, when the Cowboys secured a famous 10-0 win over their big brothers Brisbane. That was the last finals game before this where ten points or fewer were scored - and there hasn't been one since.
"Manly and the Roosters always had a great rivalry - they were two very defence-minded clubs, that was their primary focus. While they were good at attack, they were exceptional in defence," said Phil Gould, who was on commentary for Nine that night.
Tuivasa-Sheck scores only points of 2013 semi-final thriller
It was obvious that the rugby league community had witnessed an instant classic.
"I knew, because I was worn out when the game was over," Gould said.
"I could feel myself sweating - not that you care who wins, but the game is on tenterhooks the whole time. You're waiting for that last moment; Would Manly score on the bell and kick a goal, and what a heartbreak that would be for the Roosters.
"It was one of those nights, even though it was 4-0, it was action-packed. There was a lot of ball movement, a lot of opportunities crushed down by great defence. The game was in the balance the whole way, with neither side picking up any advantage."
It was a game between two teams who had scored a combined 1228 points during the regular season, and one that boasted the three men who would finish the year as joint top tryscorer (Michael Jennings, Jorge Taufua, and David Williams), as well as 2013's top pointscorer, James Maloney.
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Despite the skill of Maloney and Daly Cherry-Evans, the doggedness of Kieran Foran and Mitchell Pearce, plus the attacking brilliance of their outside men, this was a game that would be defined by physicality.
That notion was evident from the moment Luke O'Donnell carted up the opening kick-off, only to be driven back ten metres by a pack of Sea Eagles.
Sam Moa limped off after two minutes with what would later be revealed as a dislocated kneecap, but would return in the second half - Richie Fa'aoso wasn't so lucky.
Just minutes after coming off the bench, he was stretchered off after getting his head in the wrong spot trying to tackle Dylan Napa. The crowd roared when he threw the shakas up to let them know he was OK, but it would the last time he ever wore the Manly jumper before announcing retirement in the offseason.
Rose was the man who came on as the medicab drove off.
"Everyone was upset about it, but at the same time when you play at that level, you're able to deal with situations like that and focus on the task at hand," Rose said.
"As concerned as we were, if you didn't focus on the job we'd be doing him an injustice after he put his body on the line for the team."
Miraculously, Fa'aoso reversed that decision a year later and played for the Eels in 2015 before hanging up the boots for good. A few years later, he made his professional boxing debut on the undercard of Anthony Mundine vs Tommy Browne.
Rose's brother, Matt, was the promoter on that fight card.
"He did a lot of work to get into that position, and he was such a likable guy, and still is. He was someone that you wanted to support no matter what they were doing," Rose said.
Like an oasis in a desert, it was a rare moment of pinpoint-precise attacking play that yielded the opening try.
An early shift resulted in Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who was yet to fully become Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, tackling Taufua into touch. A scrum 40 metres out gave the Roosters their first real attacking chance, and there was no way of knowing that Tuivasa-Sheck's put down in the back corner of the in-goal from a James Maloney grubber would be the only scoring play of the night.
A couple of minutes later, Daniel Tupou was thwarted by a flying Peta Hiku in cover defence - which was the last time the Roosters came remotely close to scoring.
Despite winning, the Chooks failed to record a single linebreak - it was brilliance and desperation at the other end which won them the game.
But it wasn't a composition of clear-cut opportunities that went begging for Manly, but rather plays and moments that had a decent chance of resulting in points.
On another day, either of David Williams' first half linebreaks ends in a try.
On another day, Justin Horo grounds the Foran grubber kick in the in-goal that narrowly evaded his fingers.
On another day, Anthony Watmough doesn't have two knock ons either side of halftime while on the attack.
On another day, Foran's crossfield kick finds Jamie Lyon, not the leaping Michael Jennings.
On another day, a blind pass from Foran after latching onto a Cherry-Evans chip kick would evade the chasing Mitchell Aubusson and find a white jersey. Taufua would do likewise with 20 minutes to go, his pass after a break down the left hitting Pearce in the chest.
On another day, Tuivasa-Sheck doesn't ankle tap Steve Matai 10 metres out from the try line.
Sometimes, even on a dozen dice rolls, it shows snake eyes every time.
The last ten minutes of the game was essentially played entirely in the Roosters half, aside from a couple of clearing kicks.
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In one moment that summed up the contest, Aubusson chased Cherry-Evans down the right wing and corralled him near halfway.
"Proving yourself as a trustworthy teammate is the ultimate for every player - and that's what the Roosters are built on," Gould said.
"Being there just in case - they're always there, and 99 times out of 100 you don't notice it when they're not needed. But when it comes up, and they do it, people go 'oh wow!' But he was there all day, and that's why Mitchell Aubusson played so many games."
Welcome respite came when Jamie Buhrer failed to find touch from a penalty at the 74 minute mark, but the final moments were dictated by a refusal of the Roosters to break, no matter the cost.
"The mentality was 'we'll give away penalties, we'll give away line dropouts and trust our resolve. We'll back our defence," Gould said.
But what made, and continues to make, the Roosters such a great defensive team?
"They care. It's that simple," Gould said.
"They put a lot of time and effort into it, and they show they care through their defence, which is the hardest part of the game."
Jake Friend was called for a deliberate holding down penalty (probably a sinbin by today's rules), a desperate high tackle from Napa caught Foran (possibly a sinbin by today's rules), and a trio of Roosters pulled the ball out in the tackle illegally in the final 10 seconds, setting up one last play after the clock had already struck 80:00.
None of that mattered when finally, as the siren sounded and the ball ended up with Rose of all people, his offload was pounced upon by Shaun Kenny-Dowall, allowing the exhausted Tricolours to embrace, and their fans to celebrate.
"I didn't even know it was the end of the game," he confesses. "The crowd was nuts."
"I was filthy I got stuck with the ball, it came to me and I was like 'f--k, what do I do?' You look up and there's eight Roosters coming at you and there's very little you can do. I got away from the first one and looked for the pass, but I just got swarmed."
After the game, both coaches agreed that they'd just witnessed a true final.
"It wasn't perfect tonight, it was courageous," Roosters boss Trent Robinson offered at the time.
Counterpart Geoff Toovey agreed.
"I'm not sure if it was a good spectacle or not because I was a bit caught up in it but it was definitely intense and on a knife's edge and anyone could have won at any stage."
Manly had the statistical advantage throughout, running for nearly 700 more metres, producing four line breaks to none, double the amount of offloads and the lion's share of possession.
But through all of that, the Roosters didn't blink.
"To keep the opposition scoreless for 60 to 70 minutes is massive. But what you do have to look at is how you break them down. But knowing that defensively we were on their level, it puts you in a really good headspace going into the next game as long as you can back-up," Rose said.
And back up they did, beating the Sharks and Rabbitohs to secure a rematch three weeks' later in the grand final. It was the same winner, but a vastly different game boasting seven different tryscorers.
Rose walked off the field in the final twenty minutes that night thinking the game was won, but a late Roosters surge was enough to secure them their first premiership in 11 years.
"I thought in that grand final, we had it won. I was stoked, thinking we were heading for another premiership," Rose recalls.
Given the current state of the game and point-scoring records that have tumbled in 2021, it's possible we'll never see a big game like this qualifying final again.
"There's that mantra that saving a try is better than scoring a try, and when you get to these high-level games, invariably, the best defensive team in the competition wins it. They might win by a big score because they totally capitulate their opposition, but it's their defensive resolve that turns sides away," Gould said.
"This was just two teams that totally respected each other."