Tensions cool but NRL rivalry not lost

Brett Stewart being knocked out in the 2007 grand final ignited the tense Manly-Melbourne rivalry.
Brett Stewart being knocked out in the 2007 grand final ignited the tense Manly-Melbourne rivalry.

Kieran Foran isn't afraid to admit it was a rivalry built on personal hatred.

For six years Manly and Melbourne clashed as two of competition's best, with tensions rising in every meeting.

It kicked off in the 2007 grand final when Michael Crocker knocked out Brett Stewart, before reaching boiling point in the infamous 2011 Battle of Brookvale.

Friday night's qualifying final is the teams' first September meeting since 2012.

In the nine years since, tensions have significantly cooled with Melbourne's main rivalries now Penrith and the Sydney Roosters.

"It's different now," Foran said.

"There's probably not that same personal hatred towards one another that there was back then.

"The game today is very different.

"Players are always connecting through social media and probably more approachable."

Few players remain from that era of the rivalry, with Jesse Bromwich the last one left at Melbourne and Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans at Manly.

Des Hasler and Craig Bellamy are also back at it, with Hasler the only current mentor to have a winning record over the Storm coach

"It's changed, but there is definitely the understanding and respect that both clubs have been highly successful over the past decade," Foran said.

"There is no denying that when the clubs meet one another there is a real drive to want to come over the top of each other."

The two clubs also remain interesting case studies.

As Melbourne prop Christian Welch noted, the Storm remain one of "militant pre-seasons" in contrast with the Sea Eagles being all about buy-in.

"We had a guy like Chase Blair join us, and he talks about the culture of a club, the buy-in from the Manly boys," Welch said.

"There's two ways to skin a cat and the different approaches are really interesting with the amount of success both those teams have."

One thing is certain, though - the rivalry has not been forgotten.

It sparked up in 2018 when Dylan Walker and Curtis Scott squared off, while younger Storm players speak of the way current and retired senior players lift for weeks into Manly games.

"It's starting to pick up the old Manly derby," Welch said.

"It's been 10 years since the battle of Brookvale but we certainly had a good look at it.

"Because it's one of those iconic rugby league moments.

"We don't want to glorify violence and throwing punches, but I suppose the hatred and the pure contest of the two teams, that was what I really appreciated out of that.

"And obviously there were the grand finals against each other. It's a good rivalry."

Australian Associated Press